A same-sex couple hold hands during an event to raise awareness of gay rights in Hong Kong on May 25, 2019, one day after Taiwan made history with Asia’s first legal gay weddings. (File photo by PHILIP FONG / Agence France-Presse)

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential candidates were split on whether they would support civil unions and divorce in the country — issues that they tackled during CNN Philippines’ presidential debate on Sunday.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao remained firm on his stand against same-sex marriage, but he clarified that he “salutes” and “respects” the LGBTQ+ community for being “hardworking.”

“We need to have equality in our country without favoring any kind of person. But what I’m saying is that, when it comes to same-sex marriage, I am against that. I am not in favor of that,” Pacquiao said in Filipino.

The boxer-turned-politician explained that he could not control their personal decisions but reminded them he could not agree to their beliefs.

“It’s hard to force yourself to agree with them if it means you will sin against the Lord. It is really important that we also have the Lord in life because without the Lord we can do nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo said she was “all for civil unions,” pointing out that she was one of the authors of the anti-discrimination bill as a member of the 16th Congress.

“I believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to enjoy the right that others enjoy. I am for civil unions. I share the belief of Pope Francis that anyone has the right to be happy. They should not be punished because of the choices they make,” she said.

“For me, it’s the obligation of the government to make sure that they are not discriminated against, and all the opportunities available to others should also be available to them,” she added.

Lacson shared Robredo’s stand but clarified that he was for civil union, not same-sex marriage.

“They also have the right to be ordinary just like us — straight or heterosexual. Whatever we enjoy, whatever privileges that we enjoy should also be given to them. Let us give them equal opportunity and privileges,” he said.

“So that’s clear to me. Civil union, yes. Same-sex marriage, no,” he added

3 candidates favor divorce

Asked on who among them were allowing divorce in the country, only three — labor leader Leody de Guzman, Lacson, and businessman Faisal Mangondato — raised their hands, while the rest of the candidates did not.

CNN Philippines then asked Robredo and Pacquiao, who were one of the candidates who said that they were opposed to divorce, how they could help spouses who could not afford annulment but would want to end their marriage.

Pacquiao said marriage is not a joke and “a commitment made before God.” So individuals should be thoroughly educated about married life before tying the knot.

“We need to value it. It’s not just about meeting each other and then getting married. Let’s learn about it and it has to be taught to couples. You know, getting married you swear to the Lord. [Getting divorce] is like: Lord, get out of my life for awhile, we will separate,” he said.

“Because you are there before the Lord, you will swear that through thin and thick, hardship and comfort, you will stay together, whatever happens, you will have each other alone. Marriage is a symbol of God’s love. We should understand that before we enter into marriage. We should think carefully so we don’t end up separating or being divorced. So I’m really against divorce,” Pacquiao added.

Meanwhile, Robredo said that she agreed that poor people had no legal options to end abusive marriages.

She noted, however, that the Supreme Court had already addressed the issue in some of its rulings.

“Tayo po ay merong mga batas, meron tayong annulment of marriage, declaring nullity of marriage, at agree ako na while andiyan ito, hindi ito accessible sa mahihirap dahil sa requirements nito,” said Robredo.

(We have laws. We have annulment of marriage, declaring nullity of marriage. I agree that, while they are there, it is not accessible to the poor because of the requirements.

She referred to Article 34 of the Family Code that requires psychological examination to avail of annulment of marriage and declaration of the nullity of marriage.

“Napakamahal nito hindi siya accessible para sa mahihirap, kaya nagiging accessible lang siya sa mayayaman. Pero may bago pong Supreme Court decision na mababago na po ito para maging accessible na ang una,” Robredo said.

“It’s very expensive. It’s not accessible to the poor. So it’s only accessible to the rich. But there is a new Supreme Court decision that will change this to make it accessible.”

“Even before Republic Act 9262 or ‘Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act’ was passed, I was one of its lobbyists,” she said. But in order for us to protect them, we must help women through economic empowerment so that they would not  tolerate the abuses they suffer.”

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