A dialogue with the Presidentiables

Published March 22, 2022, 5:07 AM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

(Part 4)

            As reviewed in the last article, the Philippine Constitution categorically states that marriage is an “inviolable Institution.”   As far as those of us who were in the Committee on Marriage and the Family headed by Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma were concerned, “inviolable” was synonymous with “indissoluble.”  Our view was that legalizing absolute divorce in the Philippines would lead to dire consequences for society, especially among the most vulnerable of the population, the children.  That is why I was pleasantly surprised when almost at the beginning of his Presidency, President Rodrigo Duterte sent very clear signals to some members of the House of Representatives who were trying once again to introduce a bill legalizing divorce that he would oppose any legislation legalizing divorce.  The President gave a very pragmatic reason:  he said that divorce hurts children most.  This stand is fully supported by abundant evidences from social science research all over the world.  Just google “Adverse effects of divorce” and the first entry that will hit you on the face, read by 26,300,000 searchers (as of March 2, 2022) is as follows: “Children of divorce are more likely to experience poverty, educational failure, early and risky sexual activity, non-marital childbirth, earlier marriage, cohabitation, marital discord and divorce. In fact, emotional problems associated with divorce actually increase during young adulthood.  In the face of such abundant empirical results, not related to religious beliefs, I suggest that the Presidentiables who expressed their support for the legalization of divorce should reconsider their position.

            In the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood, we can read a detailed explanation of these findings about the adverse effects of divorce on children.  In that authoritative publication, we read that numerous studies have found that parental separation and divorce is associated with a range of negative outcomes for younger children and adolescents across various domains.  Parental separation/divorce is associated with academic difficulties, including lower grades and prematurely dropping out of school. This latter negative consequence of divorce would actually aggravate the already serious problem of school dropouts in the Philippine educational system where more than 40 percent of grade school children drop out before their reach high school, involving a great deal of wastes of public funds.  Among the children of divorced parents, there exist greater disruptive behaviors (e.g., being oppositional with authority figures, getting into fights, stealing, and using and abusing alcohol and illegal drugs). It has also been found out that children and adolescents who experience the divorce of their parents have higher rates of depressed mood, lower self-esteem and emotional distress.

            Further elaboration of the results of the studies on the effects of divorce of children indicates that there are two main and competing explanations for the increase in problems   seen among children.  The first, the causal hypothesis, suggests that divorce harms children and causes their subsequent problems.  In contrast, the “selection” hypothesis emphasizes that divorced parents are different from those who do not divorce and that these differences lead both to divorce and to later adjustment problems in the children.  Research studies have turned to numerous designs to test the causal and environmental selection factors. For example, genetically-informed approaches, studies that help ruleout genetic and environmental selectionfactors, and longitudinal studies withmeasures of offspring functioning before and after the separation suggest that risk factors specifically associated with parental separation/divorce are responsible for most of the increased risk of psychological, academic, and social impairments.

            There is conclusive evidence that parental separation/divorce is associated with increased risk for numerous psychological, academic and social problems throughout the life-course.  Although many children of divorced parents are able to survive the separation without having diagnosable problems, the small effects, when multiplied by the millions of people who experience parental separation/divorce constitute a very serious public health problem.  From the experiences of countries which have legalized divorce, we can observe that the possibility of breaking what should otherwise be an indissoluble bond, actually weakens the institution of marriage and leads to a spiraling of divorce cases.  In some countries close to 50 per cent of marriages end up in divorce, a situation which threatens the very stability of society.  We cannot separate the institution of marriage from the very foundation of a society.  As the research paper from the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development ends up recommending: “Families are more likelyto flourish in environments where marriage is strong and where families have access to the material, social and psychological resources they need.  Thus, public policy reforms should take a comprehensive approach toward reducing therisks in children’s lives, including parental separation/divorce. There is wisdom in making the phrase in our Constitution “marriage is an inviolable institution”  equivalent to the anti-divorce phrase intended by those who drafted the Philippine Constitution of 1987 that  “marriage is an indissoluble institution.”  Policy makers should look for more creative ways of helping couples in troubled marriages cope with their difficulties other than the actual dissolution of the sacred bonds of marriage.   After all, in addition to the strong arguments against divorce based on empirical research found in this paper, religious convictions of the majority of Filipinos who are Catholics also make them opposed to the idea of absolute divorce.  For comments, my email address is [email protected]