Legalizing divorce: Is Congress ready?

News Release
24 March 2015

On maternity leave bill, divorce in PHL, and prospects for K to 12 program
Transcript of Interview with Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Chairperson, Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality
Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture

Q: What is the status of the bill?

This is the first hearing we’ve had on maternity benefits and what’s important here is we looked at what our present status is which is 60 days maternity leave for normal birth and 78 days for caesarean. But importantly, we also look at the practices in other countries, and even compared to our Asian neighbors, mababa ang maternity leave natin. We are not giving due recognition to the work that women contribute to the workforce, and until we make our maternity benefits more conducive, many women will end up leaving the workforce, because, of course when they have a baby, they will have to take care of that baby, and our studies also show that if a mother cannot breastfeed her baby, or stops breastfeeding before 6 months, they lose that advantage that breastfeeding gives and these mothers will also end up being absentee employees which contribute to the problems in the workforce. And so if from the start we fix this, we give extended maternity leave to the mother so they can focus on being a mother for the first few months and get their pay, then they will be able to return to the workforce confident that their child is healthy and in good hands, and be able to contribute better and continue with that particular job that they have. So that is our objective.

Q: Ma’am set na po ba kayo sa 90 days or can that still be changed?

It can still be changed. What I find unfortunate is that the employers’ federation did not even bother to come. They are a major stakeholder here because of course yung mga employers ang nagbabayad, sila ang mga may empleyadong ganoon, and if they do not hear our discussion, they lose the benefit of understanding why it is very important for women to be supported. It is Women’s Month pa man din and so I feel that it is offensive that they do not take time to listen to these issues.

The ILO Convention, which again is very disappointing, way back in the 1950s hindi pala pumirma ang Philippines. So I will make sure that even though we are not a signatory, we will comply with that. The ILO Convention requires na 14 weeks ang maternity leave. And at least two-thirds of the maternity leave pay is paid. So we are not compliant with that. Fourteen weeks is 3-1/2 months. So although I haven’t made a final decision, I am waiting for the submission of data, at least ico-comply natin yang 3-1/2 months na maternity leave. I expect that there will be some resistance from employers but what I told the panel earlier is that it is very important that society adjust to the fact that women now make up 51% of the workforce. So you cannot have policies from the 1930s [being enforced] in the year 2015, at a time when there were very few women in the workforce. We must adjust our policies to accommodate that. And as to the argument that baka lalong magka-discrimination versus women, pipiliin ng employers na huwag na lang women, kasi manganganak, look around you: Ilan ba ang buntis? You don’t see that many pregnant women all at the same time. The impact on the employers who will be paying the maternity benefit is very small. So huwag na nating… marami pang ibang problema ang bansa… let’s just move forward on this, pass this law, so we can support more women in the workforce.

Q: Ma’am six months yung gusto ng UNICEF kanina?

Yes, six months is ideal, because six months is consistent with fully breastfeeding your baby – for six months. But I do believe that that will be difficult for us to achieve at this point. What we can consider is six months but only a certain portion will be fully paid and then the rest would be leave without pay.

What is also important to note is doon sa mga countries and including Vietnam – so if you look at the charts of Vietnam they are, and I will be very candid about this, surpassing us on many benchmarks including health care, they now have a policy of six months maternity leave — what I would recommend is that this maternity leave that we will grant, [will be] at least 14 weeks, that’s 3-1/2 months, or four months if we could go that far, will be fully paid, and then the rest is unpaid but with the option to take that maternity leave so that the woman can still go back to get her job.

Q: Ma’am di kaya magiging factor yan para sa mga employer na kumuha na lang ng mga lalaki kaysa sa babae?

Oo yun nga yung sinabi nila na baka pag dinagdagan natin yung maternity leave, ma-discriminate pa ang women, lalaki na lang ang kunin. Sabi ko naman: ‘Mga kababayan, look around you. Women are so productive in this society.’ I don’t think any workforce can survive without a woman there. And I don’t think that that one pregnant woman, once or twice or three times in her lifetime, will be such a financial burden. Think about it. So I call on every employer here and everyone who has female colleagues who are working, who are pregnant, it is not such a big dent on the financial coffers of an employer to accommodate a pregnant woman. It is not as if all the working women will be pregnant at the same time! So I even ask for data to show us how many pregnant women are there in the workforce, under 30, 30 and above… Once po na pumasok sa workforce, the data also show that the rate of child-bearing, the rate of pregnancy, is much smaller – these were part of the debates on the Reproductive Health for those of you who will recall. Kasi once na pumapasok sa workforce ang woman, necessarily they become more conscious of their responsibilities on how expensive it is to raise a family, and they are the ones who have smaller family sizes. And so to the employers out there, wag na wag po kayong magbalak na mag-discriminate sa mga buntis na babae dahil ako po ang makakalaban n’yo dyan, dahil napakaliit lang na bagay yan sa inyong financial position and it will not help our society in any way if women are discriminated just because of pregnancy.

Q: Ma’am sa SSS magdadagdag ba sila ng sisingilin?

The SSS is a bigger issue because based on actuarial studies, sagad na raw ang benefits na nabibigay nila. I won’t argue with that, ako malaki ang pagtingin ko sa actuarial studies, that would be a subject of another committee, hindi na yan pasok sa committee ko. So kung hanggang dyan na lang ang actuarial studies nila na hindi na madagdagan ang benefits then it would fall nga on the shoulders of the employer, na sila ang magbigay ng karagdagang benepisyo.

Pero yun nga ipo-point out ko, yung existing structure natin na, nakalagay sa batas natin na up to 60 days leave, ibibigay ang full meternity benefit ng 100 percent daw ng salary. Pero ang computation noon – salary credit – is just P16,000. So kung kayo ay kumikita ng P20,000 (per month) at mag-aavail ka ng maternity leave, hindi mo pa makukuha yung buo, no. You will only get P16,000. Hindi po ako happy doon. Kasi sa karamihan ng working mothers, yung sweldo mo, kulang na nga yun sa sarili mo, nagka-baby ka pa, binawasan ka pa. So ang mangyayari, bumabalik ka kaagad sa trabaho dahil ayaw nilang mawalan ng, may cap nga eh, P16,000, so ayaw nilang mawala yun, kung P20,000 ang sweldo mo o P25,000. I find that unfair, kailangan yung full salary makuha ng nanay.

Q: Ma’am about divorce, there’s a survey saying that 60% of Filipinos favor divorce? Is it time to pass a divorce law?

Yes actually, your committee has been looking at the possibility of hearing a divorce legislation. We’ve actually heard during the start of the Congress all the existing laws discriminatory towards women. And so that includes the Family Code that does not have a divorce provision. We consider that a discriminatory practice because many women are forced to stay in a marriage that is harmful to them, either physically or emotionally. Now I speak of it from a women’s perspective, but it doesn’t mean that it cannot apply also to men. I am of the belief that there is nothing to be proud about when we say we’re the only country in the world that still does not have divorce. It doesn’t say anything for us. What does it mean? That we are self-suffering? That we allow women, or men for that matter, to stay in horrible relationships and possibly not even be good parents to their children simply because our law does not recognize that they should live separate lives? So I am very open to continuing hearings on this matter.

Q: So Ma’am may pending bills na po before the Senate?

We do not actually have a divorce bill filed, that was one of the hindrances, but there are bills on expanding legal separation, expanding the definition of annulment, so I can actually take it from there.

Q: Pero hindi na kailangan ng separate bill sa divorce talaga?

In a committee report, if the subject matter is consistent with the bills that are filed, it is possible for me to push through. I just have to study it a little bit further. But yun nga in the course of the non-availability of divorce, it being a discriminatory practice, na-hear ko na yun. So I will just look into whether this will be a continuation or if there’s a need to file a resolution.

Q: So what we can do Ma’am is amend the Family Code?

Yes it would actually be an amendment of the Family Code, because it is the Family Code that defines spousal relationships, including the termination of that relationship.

Q: Ma’am may timeline po ba kayo, like within the next few months?

Actually it was included in my priorities for this first six months, because as many of you know, my term will end, so realistically I don’t know that Congress has the desire to prioritize this. I can, I have no problem with it, but as to whether my colleagues would, you would have to ask them. I am happy to sponsor something to just get it rolling. I read somewhere that I think it’s in the House that they are happy to start the discussion. I am happy to, because it is a matter that should be discussed.

Q: So kailangan po yung bill, o pwede na po…?

With what I have, I feel that it can lead into a redefinition of how to terminate, or how to change the status of a marriage. I use those words because the bills filed are expanding the definition of legal separation, psychological incapacity… so to introduce it as divorce per se, I think it can be done but I would have to also check with our rules to see how specific… It’s not a hindrance, I mean I can always file a resolution, so that itself is not a hindrance.

It’s just really, my question really was: How far this will go? But I am happy to be a part of it and to introduce it.

Q: Pero ready na kaya ang mga Pinoy na magkaroon ng divorce law?

Well the survey shows that the Filipinos are ready. The question is: Are the congressmen and women ready to have the debate and to make a decision on it? Because the survey shows they (Filipinos) are. As I’ve always said with Reproductive Health: ‘You don’t have to avail of it. It’s your choice. But why will you deprive another Filipino of the right to avail of it?’

So I believe, the survey shows the Filipinos are ready. Is your Congress ready to have this debate? That’s the question. Your chairperson is ready to present a bill in any form to initiate the debates. But is Congress ready for it?

Q: Ma’am doon sa motion to suspend K to 12?

Yes, I was supposed to have a hearing, but due to the schedules of the different senators, I will be postponing it to the first week when we resume session para the senators can attend. Pero I will have updates on my own by the week after Holy Week so I’ll be happy to update you.

Q: Ano po ang position n’yo sa K to 12?

As of now, my position is, there are really a lot of gaps. The information I have, may gaps, mayroon talagang kakulangan sa budget, kulang din sa oras to really roll it out properly. The question we must ask ourselves: In programs of this magnitude, does it help us to delay? Or do we have to bite the bullet and roll it out and allow the problems to surface and clean it up in the process?

Because I believe it has to happen, it’s just a question of kailan dapat matuloy itong K to 12. Kasi marami tayong pagbabagong ginagawa doon na makakatulong naman sa atin. Ang tanong ko lang ay handa na nga ba tayo na gawin yon? Kasi kung hindi, huwag naman nating sayangin yung oras ng mga estudyante.

Q: May resolution ba para isuspend ang K to 12 [inaudible]?

That I don’t know because, we have to look very carefully at the writing of the law because there is an automatic review, pero as to whether we can officially suspend it under that existing law, I’m not sure if that power is clearly given to Congress. Of course, Congress can always repeal a law.

Q: Ma’am hindi po ba gahol yun kung May pa mag he-hearing, considering na June na yung implementation?

Ay hindi, June of next year pa, 2016. So 2016 yung implementation, so there’s a year, that’s the question. We need to find out from DepEd and that is briefing that they will be giving… mandatory yun under the law that DepEd is supposed to give their briefing. So ready na sila to brief us, minove lang natin from April to May para nandito yung ibang senators, but I will get my briefing in April. They will let us know kung handa na nga sila. #

“There is nothing to be proud about when we say we’re the only country in the world that still does not have divorce. It doesn’t say anything for us.”

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