“Magbulag na ta!” (Let us part ways!)

Not only scarcely did I hear my mother strongly addressing these words to my father. In hindsight, it was more of a momentary cry of exasperation than a serious threat, but my mind was too young then to make such a distinction. This sporadic warning usually happened when my father was already sober after hours of being under the influence of alcohol.

I was born into an imperfect family, if there is at all a perfect family, aside from the Holy Family of Nazareth. Mine has also its share of flaws and issues to work out. My father’s virtues were also blemished with a couple of vices. He was prone to drinking and loved to gamble on Sundays. Most likely, it was his way of coping with life’s tribulations, but as I advanced in years, it gradually became embarrassing to see my him passing by our school drunk, wobbling and walking almost aimlessly, falling at times, while singing his favorite Cebuano songs as if nobody cared and paid him attention. Indeed, in vino gaudium (in wine, there is joy), as the saying goes. His gambling habit though was a little tolerable, especially if he would bring some pasulubong following a lucky day in the cockpit arena.

Looking back, I guess that my mother was not against drinking and gambling per se. After all, drinking never brought Tatay to any fight or heated argument with my mother, or with anybody. He knew he was at fault so he would never challenge any reproach from his conscientious wife. Possibly it was more the wasteful use of hard-earned money that infuriated my mother during those difficult times. Maybe, if we were rich, it would not have been a marital issue at all. A half-gallon of tuba (coconut wine) and a bottle of Vino Kulafu did not cost that much anyway, while 20 pesos was all that he needed and could afford to bet on his favorite fighting cocks. However, for an impoverished family, it was already a big deal. Back in the 1980s, my father’s average daily income for cutting wood was only 20 pesos. My mother would also earn almost the same amount by selling rice cakes to make both ends meet.

“Where sin abounds, grace does abound more exceedingly” (cf. Rm 5:20). It is providential that my parents did not separate until my father passed away. The religiosity of Nanay coupled with the humility of Tatay certainly helped them persevere in this otherwise imperfect union. Their marriage lasted for more than 50 years. Thus, I was blessed to grace the occasion of their beautiful golden wedding anniversary celebration together with my seven siblings, their spouses and more than 20 grandchildren. At that time, Tatay was already weighed down by sickness, but could still march down the aisle with a little help from his eldest grandchild who served as the “groom’s best man”. Indeed, it was a sight to behold and, after more than 10 years, the memory lingers on!

But what could have happened had they separated as husband and wife? Without a doubt, it would have been a lot harder for all of us growing up. We would worry so much about the future. I even asked myself then, “Who would take care of us, young as we were?” We would also worry for our parents as they would be left on their own. And if one or both of them would find a new partner, how difficult the adjustments would have been to live with an unfamiliar person under the same roof!

A study shows that the breakup of parents could result in a belief of the affected children that “personal relationships are unreliable, and even the closest family relationships cannot be expected to hold firm”. Post-separation adjustments could lead to “deep distress to the children well into adulthood”, long-lasting feelings of abandonment, anger and eventually depression for the loss of available parents to talk to.

The Absolute Divorce Act that was passed on the third and final reading in the House of Representatives on May 22, 2024, considers “excessive drinking” as a valid ground to file for divorce. Presuming that divorce law was available then and my mother availed herself of this recourse as an easy way out, then our family would not be the same family that we have now. Besides, I do not think I would make it to the religious life and priesthood. As a former formator in the seminary, I know how challenging it is to accompany seminarians who come from “broken families”. Without any fault of their own, they have to come to terms with the adverse effects of the severed relationship of their parents. Personal issues of formands arising from material poverty may be less difficult to address provided that the family has remained intact with the members mutually supportive of one another.

The crisis in the Church and the society begins with the crisis in the family caused by a confluence of factors, among them, for sure, is the breakdown of marriage. By the same token, the crisis in religious and priestly life finds its roots in the family. The quality of our future religious and priests depends largely on the kind of formation that they have received early on from their parents. We have already the annulment process in the civil forum which can be made more affordable and accessible to couples whose marriages are deemed null and void from the beginning. In the Church, Pope Francis has already simplified the procedures for the declaration of nullity, although we need to work harder in the preparation of the candidates for marriage and the continuing accompaniment of couples.

Legalizing divorce will not minimize our woes as a Church and nation. It will only augment them. It may offer relief to struggling couples, but will undeniably cause untold suffering to the young whom our Holy Father calls “the present and future of the Church”.


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