There’s an old saying that states “even a broken clock is right twice a day”. Literally, this means that even a clock which no longer functions can still be accurate since the time its hands stopped on will be the correct time twice in one day.
Idiomatically, the saying applies to people who are often irrational and give inaccurate information on issues but manage to surprise with an insightful opinion or a rational response every now and then. Just like a broken clock, these individuals can be correct occasionally.
Perhaps the best example of a human “broken clock” in Philippine politics is Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez. Previously, he was attracting headlines with absurd proposals such as lowering the age of criminal liability to 9 years old and appropriating an annual budget of US$26.00 for the Commission of Human Rights in response to their criticism of the Duterte administration.
Lately, however, Alvarez has been championing measures that would very likely yield positive results for society. His most prominent bill at present is one which allows the dissolution of marriage, known colloquially as the ‘divorce bill’. This is not the first time an attempt was made to legalize divorce in the Philippines, all previous iterations of this measure failed mainly due to staunch opposition from conservative Christian groups.
The Philippines is one of only two sovereign states in the world which does not allow divorce, the other being the Vatican. Alvarez correctly states the negative impact of this reality: poor families suffer the most since the available process, annulment, is resource-intensive and can last prolonged periods of time.
The House Speaker also accurately states that being trapped in abusive marriages do more harm to all family members involved than undergoing divorce. A report on PsychologyToday.com identified effects troubled households have on children, including: chronic tensions, mood problems and fearing intimacy as they grow up.
The necessity of divorce for the Philippines is something Alvarez could not ignore, hence he is robustly pushing his bill in Congress even though that President Duterte himself is personally opposed to it. While other lawmakers would shy-away from forwarding an agenda contradicting the President, Alvarez is instead pro-actively persuading the former to change his mind.
And it isn’t just the President that Alvarez has standing in his way to enact the divorce bill into law. Historically, the biggest detractors of any legislative action to allow divorce has come from the religious sector – particularly from priests, pro-life politicians and other religious leaders.
Yet rather than to cower from the influence of these religious groups, Alvarez is not only decisively championing for a divorce law but is also filing a bill to remove the tax exemption of religious organizations as well. The bill would be very liberal, not only for Philippine standards but globally as well. Only a select few countries collect tax revenue from their religious groups, and all of them are located in Europe also.
If the divorce bill would prove a tough fight against religious groups, it is without a doubt that Alvarez faces a much robust opposition to a bill that seeks to tax churches. However, being aware of the financial prowess of religious organizations in the Philippines presents a strong case for passing this legislation.
In 2014, the Philippine-based cult ‘Iglesia Ni Cristo’ (Church of Church) was able to afford the construction of a 50,000-seat, state-of-the-art sports stadium to celebrate their 100th founding anniversary that year. It is the largest indoor arena in the world, and reportedly cost US$200M to construct, employing world-class construction firms from abroad.
Another religious cult, the ‘Kingdom of Jesus Christ’, saw its founder – Pastor Apollo Quiboloy – detained in Hawaii, along with his private jet, after U.S. authorities found an undeclared amount of cash and firearms onboard. The plane alone costed an estimated US$15M, and the stacks of cash that authorities seized from inside it amounted to another US$350,000.
Religion was meant to be an instrument of worship, and beyond that an agency to perform charitable deeds catering the poor. However, the amount of wealth which these two religious organizations possess is staggering – the tithe which they collect from their membership makes it a profitable organization, so much that they can afford to construct sports facilities and have private jets.
The ostentatious wealth they posses would present a strong case for Alvarez to waive their tax exemptions, because if they can afford such extravagant possessions they should also be able to contribute their fair share to the State.
The House Speaker surprised with these two measures, and it goes to show that even someone who is ludicrous enough to think 9-year olds are criminally-liable is capable of productive ideas.