Changing views

Personal experiences swing public opinions on divorce, death penalty, RH law

THE TIDE has shifted.In a matter of years, public opinion has changed in favor of legalizing divorce, reimposing the death penalty, and implementing the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) law in a predominantly Catholic Philippines.

From 43 to 44 percent in 2005, public support for the legalization of divorce in the country rose to 50 percent in 2011, and to 60 percent in 2014—a series of Social Weather Stations surveys showed. When asked for the third time, public support for divorce swung to very strong and stayed at moderately strong up to 2017.

While the figure in 2017 was lower (67 percent) compared with the level of support in 2016 (81 percent), the strong support for death penalty continues to be expressed by most of Filipinos, according to pollster Pulse Asia.

The legal fight to have these policies in place remains uncertain. PHOTOS FROM UNSPLASH.COM

Surveys have also found increasing public support for the controversial RH law, despite the church’s all-out campaign against it. From 63 percent in 2009, support rose to 69 percent in 2010, and to 72 percent in 2014.

Political analyst Ramon Casiple, executive director of Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, believed that personal experiences, not the church’s influence, have contributed to changes in poll results, as regards to these measures.

“Institutions such as the church have an ideological or political frameworks in policy,” he told The Manila Times in an interview. “Public opinion largely depends on experience or external influence. In case of divorce, the obstacle is the Catholic Church. Anti-death penalty is an international advocacy already.”

In a matter of years, public opinion has changed.

The political analyst agreed that these measures, once implemented, can be a good instrument of national policy for population and development. “Yes,” Casiple said, “in the sense that human rights define the direction of state policy in a democratic setting.”

Carlos Manapat, head of the economics department at University of Santo Tomas (UST), in Manila, said the trend was also brought about by Western developments.

“The Catholic Church still has influence [on people], that’s why there are contentions,” Manapat told The Times in a separate interview. “It becomes an issue every now and then because of changing times. It is still an issue now because there’s this comparison with other countries. There’s no blockage of information, that’s why when we try to look on the internet, we are being influenced by other countries.”

The Philippines is one of only two states in the world where divorce is outlawed.

He also said there’s this excitement to imitate other countries, although no one knows what will happen next. “Anything that is exciting for us gives us satisfaction,” he stressed. “There are several economic theories about it, that if you drive away an issue, this is even more satisfying for a person. But once you are into it, the level of satisfaction will decrease. As of now, this is an issue because it’s exciting.”

Manapat disagreed that the Catholic Church’s waning influence has diminished the impact of public opinion on these controversial measures, particularly divorce. “In UST, we do not agree with that 100 percent; our stand is against it,” he revealed. “It’s not even de batable. It’s unthinkable. If you ask me as a university teacher or professor, I am against it and there are no questions about it.

The Philippines is one of only two states in the world, besides the Vatican, where divorce is outlawed.

‘Healthier option’
Gerald Bernardo, 25, a student who came from a broken family, expressed support for the passage of divorce measure as he believed this would provide a healthier option for his parents. “My mom is separated from my dad but she’s not truly free,” ernardo told The Times. “If divorce will be legalized, my mom will be happier and can find a suitable partner for herself.”

But Bernardo expressed opposition to the revival of death penalty, noting that some people might be convicted wrongly and sentenced to death. “The state should improve first the country’s justice system and think about the people who are innocent and falsely accused and incorrectly convicted,” he said. “My stance are all based from my personal experiences, and I think it’ll also help our fellow Filipinos become morally upright individuals.”

Ace Galgo, 40, a father who works as a security guard, expressed his support for the government’s push for the controversial measures, saying this would help the country’s future in a big way. “Since our government proposed these laws, my position still remains because we all know that these are for our future and also for the next generation,” he told The Times.

Government employee Antonio Gita, 62, said now is the right time to pass these measures. “On the imposition of death penalty for heinous crimes, I believe it is timely to bring it back to deter high-profile crime syndicates,” he stressed.

Gita also expressed his support for the legalization of divorce “if ever the parties could no longer save the family, despite trials to overcome the situation.”

As to the implementation of RH law, he noted that new methods were needed “to control our overwhelming population explosion, especially in the lower bracket.” He said, “This is to create a balance in preserving our natural endowments, which are rapidly decreasing and becoming scarce due to population demand like housing.”

Evangeline Fernandez, a mother of two, said she supports the legalization of divorce bill, “especially for those couples who are not happy with their marriage life.”

“Instead of fighting and hating each other, [it might be]better to end your marriage and file a divorce complaint against your partner,” she commented. “I think it is one of the most difficult points in one’s life, because there are major changes. It can be stressful and emotional, but with the help of divorce, you can [ease]the pain.”

Fernandez said she is in favor of RH law. “Here in our country, the Philippines, there are indigents or poorest among the poor who cannot provide support for their children,” she observed. “But RH law will surely help control the number of children for each fa mily. We are overpopulated.”

She noted a lot of unwanted pregnancies, teenagers giving birth who are not fully educated on how RH Law can help them.

As to the reimposition of death penalty, Fernandez believes that such measure is needed to curb cases like rape, drugs, and plunder, which “cannot be controlled by the authorities.” She said, “If this will be pushed through, it will lessen crimes. Sometimes, repetition of the same crimes [occurs. They go] in and out of jail, but if death penalty is allowed, it will end.”

Fernandez said she is calling for the lawmakers to pursue the most severe penalty for drug offenses, which is death. “If I am not mistaken, some who are not in favor are saying that this is discriminatory [toward]the poor, minorities, and members of the religious communities,” she added. “How can they [control]major crimes then, if they are not for the reimposition of the death penalty?”

Perlita Frago-Marasigan, political science professor at University of the Philippines, said public opinions are “contextual,” as one’s perception reflects the circumstances and the contexts that they are in.

“I have reasons to believe that cultural globalization facilitated by a global media has contributed to the shaping of these opinions,” she told The Times. “Migration and cultural exchanges also have made the changing views possible.”

She also said more people have become tolerant of “trial marriages” and “cohabitation” because of what they see in the movies or “modern family” television series, “which are validated by what they encounter in real life.”

Apart from this, Marasigan noted that education has also empowered men, women, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and allied community “to free themselves from the conservative mold.”

“Either they are now more career-oriented and postpone marriage for later or leave marriages to cut their losses for better careers,’’ she said. ‘’Those who are more empowered cohabitate or settle for friendships ‘with benefits.’ “

Marasigan also believed that influence of the church as an institution “is still there and has always been there, but support for its advocacies is now divided.” But she noted that more than religion, poverty limits the choices of the Filipinos.

“Despite the Pope’s call to value marriage and family, people now are considering divorce because of its practicality in a world where nothing is permanent and everything else is expensive,” Marasigan said. “While annulment is an option, it does not quite reflect the reality of a marriage that once existed and does not provide the financial security that divorce affords and offers.”

As to the revival of the death penalty, Marasigan said such measure is “nothing new,” noting the country’s lawmakers “created a need for it before, repealed it, revived it, and modified it.”

Marasigan believes the fight to have these policies in place remains uncertain. “We need to address first the more immediate economic concerns of the country—that is, inflation, sustainable production and supply of goods, and peso devaluation—before we can see the light of day.”

State’s defense
Political analyst Antonio “Butch” Valdez said Filipinos continue to support the controversial measures, particularly the death penalty, as they believe it is part of government’s mandate to ensure the “protection” of the people. “I have always maintained that the state has an inherent right to defend itself against those who intend to destroy it,” Valdez, who heads Save the Nation Movement, told The Times.

Death penalty “can be imposed against certain crimes against its sovereignty (treason) and those who destroy the foundation of Filipino society (illegal drug syndicates, genocide, and plunder),” he added.

The death penalty was abolished in 1986, when then-President Corazon Aquino took over the reins of power from deposed strongman Ferdinand Marcos. It was reintroduced by President Fidel Ramos in 1993, then suspended again in 2006 during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Valdez believes that population control measures, if not curtailed, will easily spread into liberal interpretations, which, according to him, “eventually lead to abortion and mass murder of the unborn.”

“Pro-death penalty and antipopulation control are not contradictory positions,’’ Valdez said. ‘’One has to do with taking the life of enemies of human society as an act of self-defense and another has to do with saving innocent lives of humans from other humans willfully killing them.”

But he does not see any connection between divorce and development. ‘’If at all, it will only lead to promiscuity and frivolous decisions to marry without a lifetime commitment,’’ he said. ‘’Legal separation and annulments are more than sufficient alternatives available to marriages gone awry.’’

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