As fewer and fewer Filipinos choose not to tie the knot, many couples risk not being afforded the legal benefits that come with marriage.
But live-in partners, especially from the poorer sectors, are hardly missing the benefits as they don’t have properties to split or huge taxes to file jointly, according to the head of the University of the Philippines (UP) Population Institute.
With rising costs of marriages, the supposed legal benefits become an afterthought.
“There are some services that can be trickier to deal with when you’re not married. For example, when you’re in a hospital and there are decisions to be made,” said Maria Midea Kabamalan, director of the UP Population Institute.
In situations in which a person is incapacitated, a live-in partner cannot make medical decisions or sign documents in behalf of his or her other half.
“If you are only cohabiting, then your mother has to sign in your behalf,” Kabamalan said.
Other supposed benefits, such as joint tax filing, may not be as popular as it is not mandatory.
“Many married couples I know still file their taxes separately,” Kabamalan noted.
Married couples, in fact, don’t enjoy more tax exemptions than their unmarried counterparts.
A married couple can file jointly or separately income taxes and still get an exemption of P50,000 each. The same applies to live-in partners or those in same-sex cohabitation, according to Jojo Samonte, a budget officer at a multimedia company.
Samonte said married couples and live-in partners could both list their children as dependents and get the same tax exemptions.
Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the tax reform being pursued by the Department of Finance (DOF) “covers individuals and we don’t distinguish on their status.”
“Exemption is by individuals … . So it’s fair and equal treatment,” Chua said.
Under the first package of the DOF’s proposed comprehensive tax reform program, to be exempted from paying taxes are those earning P250,000 a year.
“It will be regardless of their status and no more dependent exemption. It’s folded in into the exemption,” said the finance undersecretary.
Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay said that as tax administrator, the BIR could implement the law and collect taxes only according to one’s legal status.
“If you’re single, we collect what is due a single person; if you’re married, it’s the same. But for those living in or in same-sex relationships, we have no legislation covering them. It will be up to Congress, if they pass a law,” Dulay said.
In property relations, a woman cohabiting with a man is accorded her rights.
The Family Code of the Philippines, or Executive Order No. 209 approved by then President Corazon Aquino in 1987, explains how properties are settled between married couples and those cohabiting or living together.
Article 147 states: “When a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusive with each other as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules of co-ownership.”
But as Kabamalan noted, property sharing may not be a priority for poor couples, who cite economic reasons for skipping the “I do’s.”
“Marriages are not important to them, since there will be no properties to divide in the first place,” she said. “They will say, ‘marriage is just (a piece) paper.’”
Born out of wedlock
Children of unmarried couples do not even have to bear the burden of being born out of wedlock.
Republic Act No. 9255, which amended the Family Code, has allowed children to use their father’s surname, if paternity is acknowledged.
“If children are the concern, our laws are actually very nice to them,” Kabamalan said. Kids of unmarried couples may be listed as dependents in social services, such as PhilHealth.
For smaller, rural and more conservative communities, children born out of wedlock may be discriminated against, including being called “bastardo,” said the UP Population Institute director.
But while the stigma of being a bastard still exists, prevailing attitudes are shifting, as evidenced by the declining number of marriages solemnized in religious, civil or tribal ceremonies.
Over the years, statistics also showed that more and more Filipinos are delaying marriage.
From 2003 to 2015, the marriage rate in the country dipped 30 percent, even as the country’s population grew by 40 million, indicating that a growing number of Filipinos are born out of wedlock.
All regions in the country, save for Eastern and Central Visayas and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, saw declines in the number of marriages in 2015, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
President’s common-law wife
Kabamalan said media portrayal and social media prevalence may be a factor.
For instance, President Duterte himself is not married and has a “common-law” relationship with his partner, Honeylet Avanceña, with whom he has a daughter, Veronica.
“You would not go around saying that your President is committing a sin,” the expert noted.
With the changing behavior toward marriage, Kabamalan said the downward trend in marriage rates may persist.
“For poorer couples, money may be the problem, but for the well-to-do, it’s changing attitudes,” she said. “But it is really a confluence of factors that is driving this trend.”