Manila (AFP) - The mainly Catholic Philippines, the only country apart from the Vatican to ban divorce, took a first big step towards legalising it on Monday when the lower house of congress passed a bill.
The measure, which would allow a divorced partner to marry another person of the opposite sex, passed on third reading by 134-57 with two abstentions, the House of Representatives secretariat said.
The bill will become law if the Senate (upper house) also passes it and President Rodrigo Duterte fails to use his veto.
"In divorce and dissolution of marriage proceedings, there is no more marriage to protect or union to destroy because the marriage has long perished," said opposition leader Edcel Lagman, one of its sponsors.
"The institution of absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage does not negate the steadfast commitment of the state to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family."
Duterte spokesman Harry Roque revealed Monday that the president opposed divorce, but did not say whether he would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
"The president is against divorce. He said the children will suffer," Roque told reporters, while adding he recognised the prevailing sentiment in the House.
At present the only way to exit a failed union is to bring an embarrassing, expensive and labyrinthine civil case of annulment in which a judge declares a marriage invalid -- generally because the spouses have a "psychological incapacity".
Applicants must undergo a mental exam, testify in court and sometimes even claim they or their spouse entered the union while afflicted by a disorder such as narcissism.
The process can take anywhere from one to 10 years to wind through the creakingly slow and overburdened Philippine court system and cost at least $4,800.
Duterte, 72, separated from his estranged wife in this manner long before he was elected president.
The proposed divorce law would require a court ruling to dissolve "irremediably broken" marital unions.
It is expected to face a tougher passage in the Senate, with several senators allied to Duterte having publicly stated their opposition.
Since 1999 Philippine lawmakers have regularly filed a bill to legalise divorce, only to see it languish in committee limbo -- until now.