President Duterte’s Views on Divorce

by Prof. Bernardo M. Villegas, Ph.D.

Part 1

Children in the future generations will be very grateful to President Duterte if he is able to prevent a divorce law from being passed under his watch. His recent announcement that he is not in favour of a divorce law because its worst victims are children who will be deprived of a two-parent home which is indispensable for integral human development. He hit the nail on the head when he considered children, the most vulnerable of human beings, as the beneficiaries of a society that does not legalise divorce. This instinct of his is fully supported by the strongest evidences of social scientists from all over the world, especially from the United States—where divorce has reached epidemic proportions—about the harm done to children by broken families that are facilitated by a law that allows the breaking of the permanent bond of marriage.

As I have already discussed in previous columns in this same publication, the largest assembly known of social scientists from the most diverse disciplines met in December 2014 in Princeton, New Jersey (not the University) under the auspices of a think tank called The Witherspoon Institute ( and brought empirical results from their respective fields of studies to relate the stability of marriage and the family with the common good. The conference brought together 70 scholars from History, Economics, Psychiatry, Law, Sociology and Philosophy to share with each other the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as the permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.

Without using religious arguments (which President Duterte does not), one can explain to the uninformed masses—whatever their religious affiliations—that a divorce law can lead to a host of social and economic problems as can be gleaned from the experiences of other countries that have had a divorce law for decades. Although the 70 experts whose consensus is summarised here also cite data from other countries, most of the information used was from the United States which can be considered as the mecca of divorce. Over a forty-year period (1960 to 2000), the divorce rate more than doubled in the United States, from about 20 percent to about 45 percent of all first marriages. The data suggests that approximately two-thirds of all divorces involving children break up low-conflict marriages where domestic violence or emotional abuse is not a factor in the breakup of the marriage. Unfortunately, as President Duterte points out, the children seem to bear the heaviest burden from the divorce of their parents. Children from broken homes are significantly more likely to divorce as adults, to experience marital problems, to suffer from mental illness and delinquency, to drop out of high school, to have poor relationships with one or both parents, and to have difficulty committing themselves to a relationship. Furthermore, in most respects, remarriage is no help to children of divorced families. Children who grow up in stepfamilies experience about the same levels of educational failure, teenage pregnancy and criminal activity as children who remain in a single-parent family after a divorce.

The adverse impact on boys is especially worrisome. As an anecdotical evidence, I have observed that practically all the perpetrators of mass killings in the United States are by teenage or adult men who come from dysfunctional families. The Princeton group came out with the strong evidences that boys benefit in unique ways from being reared within stable, married families. Research consistently finds that boys raised by their own fathers and mothers in an intact, married family are less likely to get in trouble than boys raised in other family situations. Boys raised outside of an intact family are more likely to have problems with aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency, and school suspensions, compared to boys raised in intact, married families. Some studies suggest that the negative behavioural consequences of marital breakdown are even more significant for boys than for girls. One study found that boys reared in single-parent and step-families were more than twice as likely to end up in prison, compared to boys reared in an intact family. It is pretty clear that stable marriage and paternal role models are crucial for keeping boys from self-destructive and socially destructive behavior.

The seventy scientists who met in Princeton came out with abundant empirical evidences that included control for socioeconomic, demographic, and even genetic factors that might otherwise distort the relationship between family structure and child well-being. They followed the strictest statistical rules for correlation analyses. For example, the link between family breakdown and crime is not an artifact of poverty among single parents. Moreover, the newest work on divorce follows adult twins and their children to separate out the unique effects of divorce itself from the potential role that genetic (and socioeconomic) factors might play in influencing children’s outcomes. This research indicates that divorce has negative consequences for children’s psychological and social welfare even after controlling for the genetic vulnerabilities of the parents who divorce.

The findings of the Princeton group are independent of religious beliefs. That is why I find it irrelevant if the majority of Catholics in the Philippines, including unfortunately a few

misguided priests, are in favour of the divorce law. The evils of divorce go beyond doctrinal differences among religions. They are rooted in the nature of human beings and of families. Looking at all the studies cited by the Princeton group, scientific evidences link stable, permanent marriage to an impressive array of positive outcomes for children, the main concern of President Duterte. Both social and biological mechanisms seem to account for the value of an intact marriage in children’s lives. From a sociological perspective, stable marriages allow families to benefit from shared labor within the household, income streams from two parents, and the economic resources of two sets of kin. A married mom and dad typically invest more time, affection, and oversight into parenting than does a single parent; as importantly, they tend to monitor and improve the parenting of one another, augmenting one another’s strengths, balancing one another’s weaknesses, and reducing the risk that a child will be abused or neglected by an exhausted or angry parent. The trust and commitment associated with stable marriages also give a man and a woman a sense that they have a future together, as well as a future with their children. This horizon of commitment, in turn, motivates them to invest practically, emotionally, and financially at higher levels in their children than cohabiting or single parents. To be continued.

President Duterte’s Views on Divorce

Part 2

Considering the realities of human behaviour, empirically demonstrated in countries that have long legalised divorce, a law allowing the dissolution of a valid marriage leads to a slippery slope that inevitably leads to an epidemic of divorce where close to half of all first marriages end up being dissolved. His Excellency Romulo Valles, Archbishop of Davao and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was not citing Catholic doctrine but merely making an empirical observation, backed by data in other countries, that a divorce law inevitably results in an easy recourse to the dissolution of a marriage when couples begin to face challenges of marital love and commitment. In a pastoral letter that he issued last March 13, 2018, Archbishop Valles correctly points out that “in a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriage and families are bound to break up more easily. More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of the parents.” If a society makes it difficult for married couples to break the permanent bond that they contracted in marriage, many so-called “failed marriages” could have been saved by the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counsellors. If the Philippines, considering all these hard scientific evidences of the evils of divorce—especially to children—will persist in being the only country in the world where there is no law permitting divorce, we will have the reputation of being the most children-friendly nation and can retain our very high ranking in the happiness index since many surveys have affirmed that the greatest joy of Filipinos comes from an intact and happy family.

So far, we have brought up evidence that saying no to the divorce law can have significant benefits to individual persons, especially children. We can refer to this as the micro environment of marriage and the family. There are, however, equally strong and ample evidences that the macro benefits of intact and stable families can be significant. The Princeton group gathered enough evidences that marital breakdown through divorce reduces the collective welfare of children, strains the justice system, weakens civil society and increases the size and scope of government power.

As I have already pointed out in an article that appeared in this same publication more than one year ago, in the U.S. there are more than one million children who see their parents divorced and 1.5 million children are born to unmarried mothers. The collective consequences of this family breakdown have been catastrophic, as demonstrated by myriad indicators of social well-being. For example, recent Brookings survey indicates that the increase in child poverty in the U.S. since the 1970s is due almost entirely to declines in the percentage of children reared in stable and intact families, primarily because children in single-parent homes are much less likely to receive much material support from their fathers. The harm is also done to adolescents. Paul Amato, a Penn State sociologist, estimated how adolescents would fare if our society had the same percentage of two-parent families as it did in 1960. HIs research indicates that this nations’s adolescents would have 1.2 million fewer school suspensions, 1 million fewer acts of delinquency or violence, 746,587 fewer repeated grades and 71,413 fewer suicides. And may I add fewer victims of mass killings, especially in U.S. public schools. Similar estimates could be done for the collective effect of family breakdown on teen pregnancy, depression, and high school dropout rates. It is quite obvious that children have paid a heavy price for adult failures to keep their marriages intact. President Duterte is not just theorising. His views on divorce are based on hard facts.

Empirical research also shows that family breakdowns can lead to increased spending by Government on crime-fighting, imprisonment and criminal justice. George Akerlof, a Nobel laureate in economics, has shown empirically that the crime increase in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States was linked to declines in the marriage rate among young working-class and poor men. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson concludes from his research on urban crime that murder and robbery rates are closely linked to family structure. In his words: “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.” Public spending on social services has also risen dramatically since the 1960s, in large part because of increases in divorce. A study found that local, state, and federal governments spend $33 billion per year on the direct and indirect costs of divorce—from family court costs to child support enforcement. Increases in divorce also mean that family judges and child support enforcement agencies play a deeply intrusive role in the lives of adults and children affected by divorce, settling terms of custody, child visitation, and child support for more than a million adults and children every year.

The introduction of a law that allows divorce will clearly further increase the fiscal burden on the Government that will be forced to spend more on social services. Research in Scandinavian countries, for example, by sociologists David Popenoe and Alan Wolfe suggests that increases in state spending are associated with declines in the strength of marriage and the family. The breakdown of marriage goes hand in hand with more expensive and more intrusive government; the increase in divorce goes hand in hand with growing hardship in disadvantaged communities, making the call for still greater government intervention even more irresistible. It is a pathological spiral which only a restoration of family stability can hope to reverse. I hope our legislators will heed the wise advice of President Duterte: Say No to Divorce. To be continued.

President Duterte’s Views on Divorce

Part 3

As we have seen in the first two parts of this article, it has been demonstrated in studies after studies in the Western world that divorce is associated with poverty, depression, substance abuse, and poor health among adults. More broadly, widespread divorce—which inevitably results from a law facilitating the breaking of the permanent bond of marriage—poisons the larger culture of marriage, insofar as it sows distrust, insecurity, and a low-commitment mentality among married and unmarried adults. Couples who take a permissive view of divorce are significantly less likely to invest themselves in their marriages and less likely to be happily married themselves. For all these reasons, divorce threatens marriage, hurts children, and has had dire consequences for the nation as a whole.

Another reason why a divorce law will be catastrophic is the very negative impact it will have on the already disadvantaged children of the married individuals among the more than 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). When couples are separated because of the need for one of them to earn a living abroad, there are more than enough stresses on their marriages and on the children left behind. In fact, this is a serious concern of the Government, civil society and the various churches that was the topic of a recent conference held at the University of Asia and the Pacific on how to keep the families of OFWs intact. With a divorce law, the easy way out for the separated couples, who face myriad challenges to their marriage, would be to seek the dissolution of the marriage bond. The slightest temptation to infidelity of either spouse will hardly be resisted if the lonely spouse knows that he or she can easily break the marriage bond through divorce. As Archbishop Valles wrote in the pastoral letter with great human wisdom, “Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationships to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurt though understanding and forgiveness, or through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counsellor. In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriage and families are bound to break up more easily.” The toxic combination of the phenomenon of OFWs with a divorce law can easily result in an epidemic of marriage breakdowns, especially among the poorer households, further prejudicing millions of children who are already handicapped by economic deprivation.

Instead of legalising divorce, there should be efforts on all fronts (Government, civil society, and the various religious denominations) to educate and counsel married couples on how to constantly strengthen their marital relationships and to overcome the numerous challenges to their mutual love brought about by financial difficulties, clashes of personalities and opinions, challenges in the upbringing of their children, etc. The Department of Social Welfare, the Department of Education and the various agencies devoted to the welfare of OFWs should partner with the numerous family-oriented NGOs like the Couples for Christ, Marriage Encounter, the CEFAM of the Ateneo University, Ligaya ng Panginoon, Bukas Loob, Educational Programs for the Upbringing of Children (EDUCHILD), Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) and many others so that there can be timely intervention and counselling made available to married couples, and even before they get married in pre-nuptial seminars and conferences. An ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of cure.

In fact, many of these private initiatives are targeting the poor in helping them overcome the usual difficulties they encounter in their married lives. And for those poor couples who have legitimate reasons to seek for the declaration of annulment of their marriage, some of these NGOs give legal assistance so that they can overcome the financial difficulties of doing so. I can cite, for example, the case of the Asian Institute for Marriage and the Family (AIMF) founded by Noel Gamboa and Fr. Jaime Achacoso, an expert on marriage laws. AIMF has a mission of accompanying dysfunctional or problematic marital situations at all social levels by helping regularise irregular family situations by examining the possibility of seeking the declaration of nullity of a previous canonical marriage, or to proceed to the celebration of a valid canonical marriage for the existing and functioning union. Especially for poor couples, they carry out this initiative through a pool of 200 trained prejudicial law counsellors and a legal aide centre for marriage law. For more info, email A more constructive thing that the lawyers among the members of the House of Representatives who voted for the divorce law can do is use their legal expertise to establish NGOs like AIMF to extend assistance to the poor who are seeking the declaration of nullity of their marriages. At the same time, I know for a fact that the Catholic Church authorities are doing everything within their ability to simplify the process of getting an annulment. These are the more sensible measures that should replace the passing of a divorce law, which can only inflict serous harm on children and on Philippine society as a whole.

In the final analysis, the example to keep a marriage intact should come from individual married couples whose faith tells them that the marriage bond is indissoluble, that they have committed themselves to be united till death do they part. In this regard, I would like to cite the edifying example given by the lead character in the recent musical blockbuster, “The Greatest Showman” starring Hugh Jackman. Without meaning to be a spoiler, the movie had a happy ending for the family of P.T. Barnum, his wife Charity and their two daughters Caroline and Helen because the father of the family was able to resist all the temptations of honour, human glory and passion (attraction to the beautiful Swedish singer Jenny Lind) strongly motivated by his great love for his two precious daughters Caroline and Helen. Here, P.T. Barnum should represent all of us who are supporting the view of President Duterte: that saying No to Divorce will redound to the benefit of numerous children who will be spared the agony of seeing their parents separated. So, together with Jenny Lind let us sing “Never Enough” of stable, intact and lasting marriages in the Philippines. With her, too, we can raise our voices crying out: “Never, Never, Never” to Divorce in unison with the honourable Senators who will vote No to the Divorce Law. For comments, my email address is