VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Are atheists not bound by family laws?

Defending House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez from possible disbarment due to infidelity, President Rodrigo Duterte said non-Christians such as atheists are exempted from the “rules of the number of women (one) can have.”

After all, Alvarez is of Chinese-Muslim descent like him, and never converted to Christianity, Duterte said during the inauguration of the Metro Manila Crisis Monitoring and Management Center on April 4.


“That should be a non-issue actually. And do you know kung alam ba ninyo, Speaker Alvarez is not a Catholic. He’s just like me, his grandfather Chinese. Ang nanay niya Kalagan, Muslim….Ganoon kami. Kaya maski magsabi ‘yang Bebot na ‘yan, marunong ‘yan. Sabi niya, lima, apat na. Walang tayong magawa. He never converted to Christianity. So he is not bound by the rules of the number of women that you can have. All you have to say is that…I my… An atheist….But if you are an atheist, so? You can have as much as you want as long as you’re able to… The thing there is that you’re able to support the children.”

Time is too short in a world with so many women, Duterte added.

(Source: Speech at the Inauguration of the Metro Manila Crisis Monitoring and Management Center, Makati City, April 4, 2017, watch from 18:53 to 20:50)


Regardless of their religious beliefs, married men are compelled by Philippine laws to stay committed to their wives.

Concubinage is considered a crime against chastity under the Revised Penal Code: “Any husband who shall keep a mistress in the conjugal dwelling, or shall have sexual intercourse, under scandalous circumstances, with a woman who is not is wife, or shall cohabit with her in any other place” shall be imprisoned.

Both Duterte and Alvarez have confessed to having extramarital affairs. Their justification: almost everyone who holds public office is involved in one. Lawyers like them, however, are held to a higher standard.

The Supreme Court has disbarred a number of lawyers on the basis of gross immorality. Under Rule 138, Section 27 of the Rules of Court, a member of the bar may be removed or suspended from his office for deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, or grossly immoral conduct, like engaging in extramarital affairs.

As for the Family Code of the Philippines, under Article 35 of the Executive Order No. 209 s. 1987, it considers bigamous or polygamous marriages as “voidable,” but this applies only to multiple marriages and not to extramarital affairs.

It is worth noting that the Family Code has been cited by Duterte numerous times to argue against same-sex marriage. (See: VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte changes stand on same-sex marriage)

Muslims are also covered by a separate code that allows for multiple marriages but with conditions.

The Presidential Decree No. 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines recognizes the right of Muslim men to have more than one wife, provided that he can deal with them in equal companionship and just treatment as enjoined by Islamic Law and only in exceptional cases.

Any Muslim husband who wishes to marry again shall file a written notice with the Shari’a Circuit Court of the area where his family resides. The court shall then issue a copy of the notice to the wife or wives. Should any of them object, an Agama Arbitration Council shall be formed to obtain consent. If it fails to do so, the court shall decide whether or not to sustain the objection.


Act No. 3815, s. 1930 An Act Revising the Penal Code and other Penal Laws

A.C. No. 10676A.C. No. 6593A.C. No. 7136

Executive Order No. 209 s. 1987

Presidential Decree No. 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines

Rule 138 of Rules of Court