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Social Climate

The popularity of legalizing divorce

/ 08:51 PM December 21, 2012

In my view, what the narrow 113-104-3 second-reading vote for the reproductive health bill in the House reflected was the initial division of the legislators, and not the general division of the Filipino people.

The wide 133-79-7 third-reading vote that finally approved the bill was closer to the will of the people, as repeatedly shown by scientific opinion polls.

“Divorce bill next—Belmonte” went last Wednesday’s Inquirer headline, after Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte told reporters the day before, “Me, I’m in favor of the divorce bill.” So now is an opportune time to review existing data on Filipino opinions about the proposal to legalize divorce.


In 2005 and 2011, Social Weather Stations did national surveys (with statistically representative samples of 1,200 adults; error margin plus/minus 3 percent), on agreement or disagreement with the following statement:

“Ang mga mag-asawang hiwalay na at hindi na maaaring magkasundo pa ay dapat pahintulutang magdiborsyo para ang mga ito ay legal na makapag-asawa uli.” (“Married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again.”)

The earlier survey, done on May 14-23, 2005, found 43 percent agreement, 44 percent disagreement, and 12 percent undecided, on this item. Thus, Filipino opinions on allowing divorce for the case of separated+unreconcilable spouses were very evenly split at that time.

The later survey, done on March 4-7, 2011, found 50 percent agreement, 33 percent disagreement, and 16 percent undecided.  Thus, after six years had gone by, opinions had clearly tilted in favor of the legalization of divorce for the separated+unreconcilable.

The 2011 situation is not a case of split opinions anymore. If this were a prereferendum survey, the affirmative side would be expected to win. In research on social attitudes, undecideds must be treated as literally neutral, and not assigned to either side. Fifty percent on one side cannot be called a tie, without considering the percentage of the opposition. In this case, the margin of the affirmative over the negative is a very significant 17 points (50-33)

In March 2011, those in favor of legalizing divorce were dominant not only nationally but also in all study areas of the survey. The scores were 52-35 in the National Capital Region, 54-29 in the Balance of Luzon, 50-37 in the Visayas, and 44-35 in Mindanao. The margin was much stronger in urban settings (56-31) than in rural ones (44-35).

In 2011, all socioeconomic classes favored legalization of divorce, by scores of 57-40 in the middle-to-upper ABCs, 52-32 among the class Ds or masa, and 45-34 among the very poor class Es.

In 2011, the prolegalization side was slightly stronger among men (by 52-30) than among women (by 49-35).


In 2011, the margin in favor of legalization was noticeably related to youth. The highest margin was +28 (55-27) in the youngest group, aged 18-24, whereas the lowest margin was only +6 (46-40) in the oldest group, aged 55 and up. Other age-group margins were +22 (50-28) among those 25-34 years old, +13 (50-37) among those 35-44, and +20 (52-32) among those 45-54.

When opinions are more favorable among the youth, the attrition of older generations from natural causes will steadily raise the national proportion in favor of legalization, even if opinions of each generation stay constant over time. This means that, when the present youth group becomes the median age-group, the ratio of the pros to the antis will become about two to one.

In 2013, SWS will run this noncommissioned survey item again, as well as other items, in conjunction with various issues that may come up in relation to the divorce bill.

As an institution, SWS will not take any position on a bill for legalizing divorce—just as it did not take any position on the RH bill—aside from resolving to place it on our research agenda. Our mission is to find out the state of collective opinion on important social policy matters, and then disseminate such information to a wide general audience.

Anna Punzalan Molina +

SWS is in deep grief for Anna Krista Punzalan Molina, front desk pool secretary, who died unexpectedly on Dec. 15, after three weeks battling an illness not conclusively diagnosed, possibly a type of encephalitis or meningitis.

Her husband and family were by her side when Anna, only 28 years old, passed away. She had given birth to her second child in October, and was due to return from maternity leave this week.

Anna started in SWS in 2006 as a data encoder. Her work as pool secretary since 2008 put her on the public frontline and at the heart of office operations. She was the one who knew where everyone was.

Anna’s charming voice was part of SWS in many ways. Hers would most likely be the first live voice to be heard on the trunk line. She was an active youth leader, a member of her church’s music ministry, and lead singer of our choir.

Whatever Anna did—coordinating admin needs, hosting events, singing on official and unofficial occasions—naturally involved her smiles and laughter.

Anna is survived by her husband Mark Molina and daughters Serenity Faith, three years old, and newborn Felicity Hope. Together with her family and friends, SWS will sadly miss, but always lovingly remember, Anna and her happy soul.

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In the spirit of Christmas, I send greetings of peace and goodwill to all peoples, of all religions, and also those with no religion.

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