The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) lauds the April 24, 2018 Supreme Court en banc ruling recognizing the validity of foreign divorce obtained by a Filipino against a foreign spouse. The landmark decision paves the way for a Filipino who obtains a divorce from the foreign spouse to have the divorce recognized by Philippine courts. This recognizes the Filipino’s right to have the foreign divorce recognized and to be free to remarry, regardless of who files for and obtains the divorce.

“We commend this landmark SC ruling as a tool for women empowerment as majority of marriage migrants are Filipino women.  It is also our way of safeguarding their rights,” stated Undersecretary Astravel Pimentel-Naik, the Executive Director of the CFO.  She further added that the CFO has been consistently lobbying for the passage of similar legislative bills such as House Bill No. 6446 filed by Rep. Pia Cayetano  that seeks to  recognize the capacity of the Filipino spouse to remarry when the foreign spouse has obtained a foreign decree of divorce.

The Manalo Case

Voting 10-3-1, the SC en banc ruled “that a foreign divorce secured by a Filipino against a foreign spouse is also considered valid in the Philippines, even if it is the Filipino spouse who files for divorce abroad.”

The particular case was that of Marelyn Tanedo Manalo who was married to Japanese national Minoru Yoshino. Manalo filed for and was granted divorce in Japan in 2011.

Manalo went to court in Dagupan, Pangasinan to have her divorce recognized in the country. The trial court in Dagupan denied her petition. She then went to the Court of Appeals (CA), where she scored a victory in 2014.

The CA ruled that Manalo should have the right to remarry. It applied the amended Article 26(2) of the Family Code. Former president Corazon Aquino issued an executive order that amended the provision so that it included this:

Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall likewise have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.

The Philippine government, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), went to the SC to try to reverse the CA’s ruling. Manalo won at the SC level, hence this landmark ruling.

Landmark Ruling

With the amended Family Code, Filipinos who obtain divorce in the country of their foreign spouse get to remarry without fear of a bigamy suit. However, if the one who obtained the divorce was the Filipino spouse, the state still did not recognize it because of the absence of absolute divorce in the country.

With this ruling, the state now recognizes the divorce obtained by the Filipino, and couples of the same circumstances of mixed-marriage will be considered not married to each other under Philippine law.  The Supreme Court ruling is also consistent with the legislative intent of Article 26 of Executive Order No. 209 (July 6, 1987) otherwise known as The Family Code of the Philippines, as amended by Executive Order No. 227 (July 17, 1987), to rectify the absurd situation where the Filipino spouse who has been divorced from the foreign spouse remains married under Philippine laws even while the foreign spouse can exercise his or her right to remarry as cited in the Supreme Court First Division ruling G.R. No. 154380 (October 5, 2005).

Safeguarding Marriage Migrants

The CFO, an agency of the Philippine government under the Office of the President established through Batas Pambansa Bilang 79 tasked to promote and uphold the interests, rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos, including marriage migrants, conducts the mandatory Guidance and Counseling Program (GCP) for spouses and other partners of foreign nationals.

Records of the CFO show that from 1989 to 2016, majority of the more than half a million marriage migrants are female (91.38%). Out of the 522,002 marriage migrants registered with the CFO, 477,025 or 91.38% are female while 44,977 or 8.62% are male. The United States continues to be the top destination of spouses and partners accounting for 43.58%, followed by Japan (23.48%) and Australia (7.8%). More than half or 53.79% of the Filipino spouses or partners have limited knowledge about the country of their foreign spouses or partners; while 10.88% of them have no knowledge at all. Only 35.33% professed to have sufficient prior knowledge of their destination country. Most of spouses and partners are from the age bracket of 25-29 years old which is 30.61% of the total number, followed by 20-24 years old (23.50%) and 30-34 years old (19.86%).

In Japan, nearly a third of marriages between Japanese nationals end up in divorce. For Japanese nationals married to foreign spouses, majority (2/3) of marriages end up in divorce. Majority of divorce is also by mutual agreement, meaning the divorce does not go through any judicial or court proceedings. The divorce by agreement only has to be registered at the municipal office provided that the registration documents have been properly signed and sealed beforehand by both parties.

The GCP was institutionalized to address growing concerns on the mail-order spouse scheme and cases of human trafficking in the guise of marriage. The GCP was strengthened with the passage of the Republic Act No. 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 and Republic Act 10906 or the Anti-Mail Order Spouse Law, which mandated CFO to conduct pre-departure counseling services for Filipinos in intermarriages.

While the CFO does not have official data of divorced Filipinos in intermarriages, it has a database of foreign spouses / fiancées / partners who have sponsored Filipinos more than once for marriage or common-law partnership. CFO also receives reported cases of Filipinos divorced or abandoned by their foreign spouses. In some instances, Filipino spouses become victims of trafficking in the guise of marriage or mail-order spouse scheme.

The landmark ruling by the Supreme Court is, thus, an affirmation of a Filipino’s right to remarry after obtaining a divorce from the foreign spouse. At the same time, the Supreme Court decision also provides relief for victims and survivors of trafficking in the guise of marriage or mail-order bride scheme as they may now obtain foreign divorce and have the divorce recognized in the Philippines as part of the process of rebuilding their lives.