By Wilnard Bacelonia

(PNA file photo by Joan Bondoc)

MANILA – Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada on Tuesday said senators are divided on the absolute divorce bill, which was already approved by the House of Representatives.

In a phone interview, Estrada said he, Senate President Francis Escudero, Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino, and Senators Joel Villanueva and Ronald Dela Rosa are against the bill.

Meanwhile, Senators Robinhood Padilla, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Pia Cayetano, and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros are among those who are in favor.

Estrada said the 5-5 standoff was the result of a “survey of his own” to know his colleagues’ thoughts on the measure.

“Well, because I thought it’s a good idea to conduct a survey because the House passed it already on third reading, so I would just like to get their thoughts on it,” he said.

He also said the divorce bill is not among the Senate’s priorities.

When asked why he is against divorce, Estrada said the focus should instead be on easing the process of marriage annulment.

“I am a devout Catholic and there is another remedy. Meron naman annulment. Bilisan na lang ‘yung mga annulment case kasi let’s face it, medyo matagal at may kamahalan ang pag-file ng annulment (There is annulment. Just hasten the process of annulment cases because let’s face it, it takes quite a while and the filing of the annulment is expensive),” he said.

Meanwhile, Villanueva said he has read the bill and found no grounds to support it.

Hindi ko nakikita kung papaanong tutulungan nito ‘yung mahihirap nating kababayan. Parang sinasabi pa rin na gaya ng annulment, ito ay para sa mayayaman pa rin (I don’t see how this will help our poor countrymen. It’s still like saying that like the annulment, it is still for the rich),” he said in an ambush interview at the Department of Social Welfare and Development central office in Quezon City where he graced the blessing of 14 Mobile Command Centers.

Villanueva said he is willing to scrutinize it further with his colleagues on how it will affect the Family Code of the Philippines and the majority of Filipino Christians who believe in the sanctity of marriage.

Kailangan po natin itong pag-aralan nang husto. Ginagalang namin ang posisyon ng (We need to study this thoroughly. We respect the position of the) House [of Representatives],” he said.

Estrada’s brother, Senator JV Ejercito, preferred to stay neutral.

“I was raised a Roman Catholic. I understand the defense of the Church on the sanctity of marriage. But I also know that a lot of Filipino couples are trapped in loveless and unworkable marriages. It is not their fault. Sometimes things just don’t work out. I also believe that everyone deserves another chance to be happy in life,” Ejercito said.

He admitted that divorce is a “difficult issue” and he is still “in the process of discernment.”

“I intend to listen, and participate actively, in the deliberation in the Senate,” Ejercito said.

Hontiveros, who chairs the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, earlier said she is waiting for the Senate leadership to list her committee report in the agenda so she can finally bring to the plenary the committee report on Senate Bill No. 147 or the Dissolution of Marriage Act.

Matagal ng tapos ang aming committee report sa pagdinig niyan sa Senate Committee on Women. Iniintay na lang na ma-report out siya sa plenaryo para nga sa interpellation and debate. Sana mabigyang daan ‘yan sa lalong madaling panahon at hindi kumbaga i-archive lang sa isang drawer (Our committee report on the hearing in the Senate Committee on Women is long finished. We are just waiting for it to be reported out to the plenary for interpellation and debate. Hopefully that will be given a chance soon and not just be archived),” she said in a radio interview. (PNA)