The majority of the couples who exchanged vows on Wednesday at Sitio Soliman, Brgy. Iwahig during this year’s Love Affair with Nature were already married before their names were formally recorded in the Puerto Princesa City government’s civil register.

Andrew Manlawe, assistant program director for the Puerto Princesa City government, stated that the majority of those who attended the civil ceremony did so as a symbolic vow renewal rather than a first-time marriage ceremony.

“Maraming ang mas matatanda, middle-to-older age yung mga couples. Pinakabata na nagparegister ay 21 years old, at yung pinakamatanda ay 68. Out of the 118 [couples] naman, 102 were already cohabitating for more than five years,” he said.

Mr. and Mrs. Rabang, opting for anonymity by withholding their first names, are senior citizens who have shared over 30 years together as a couple without officially legalizing their marriage.

“Hindi na rin naman kailangan ng kasal, kasi may pamilya na kami. Hindi sana kami makakasama dito, pero nalakad na rin yung lisensya, kaya tinuloy na lang,” Mrs. Rabang said.

As other grooms assisted their brides by carrying their heels or holding up the hem of their wedding dress to avoid the mud in Sitio Soliman, Mr. Rabang took a different approach. Understanding that Mrs. Rabang’s sore joints made it difficult for her to navigate the slippery terrain, he stepped ahead to plant a mangrove tree for both of them, ensuring their participation without requiring her to kneel in the challenging conditions.

After the couple completed the mangrove planting, they strolled down the aisle, posed beside a magnificent wedding cake for photographs, and promptly signed their names in the civil registry.

In the Family Code of the Philippines, the formal requisites of marriage include the authority of the solemnizing officer, such as the City Mayor, who has solemnized all weddings in the Love Affair with Nature event since 2004; a public marriage ceremony conducted in the presence of said officer and at least two witnesses of legal age; and a valid marriage license, which may be waived for couples who have lived together continuously for more than five years.

Although marriages like that of the Rabang couple were valid even without a marriage license, most of the newlywed couples had to undergo a longer process for their marriage to be recognized, some more so than others.

One such couple, Elirose and Terry, had to submit additional paperwork from a foreign embassy for their marriage during the Love Affair With Nature event to be recognized as valid in the Philippines.

Elirose, a Palaweña from Brgy. Kamuning, and Terry, a Scotsman from Aberdeen, met in 2023 and formalized their relationship through a civil ceremony. Elirose expressed that it was a privilege for their marriage to be part of the long-standing tradition in Puerto Princesa City.

Terry admitted he found the Philippine bureaucracy challenging but felt the effort was worthwhile.

“It was quite difficult at first, but everything is okay now. I had to deal with the birth certificates and things like that—here, the birth certificate has a paper stamp, whereas in the UK, it doesn’t. We managed to get through it, and here we are,” he said.

“My sister also married a Scottish man so they’re friends. Her husband is [Terry’s] brother-in-law,” Elirose said, recalling the start of their whirlwind romance two years ago.

Elirose and Terry’s paths crossed thanks to her sibling, an overseas worker in Scotland. At a social gathering two years ago, Terry playfully inquired if Elirose’s sibling had a sister, sparking the introduction that would bring them together.

Both expressed their joy over the civil ceremony and recently made the decision to build their home together in Palawan.

“It’s been a great day. I’ve finally got the love of my life and the girl of my dreams,” Terry said.

Due to the popularity of well-publicized weddings, such as that of Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, in 2011 and Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera in 2014, weddings have become increasingly elaborate.

Social media businesses have emerged within the wedding industry, offering services from professionally shot outdoor pre-nuptial photoshoots to wedding hashtags and rollouts. Consequently, the cost of a wedding in 2024 could far exceed the savings of an average citizen.

For many couples, the appeal of a mass wedding lies not only in commemorating a relationship milestone by planting a tree as a symbolic gesture of longevity but also in its simplicity. They arrive, say “yes,” plant mangroves, sign their names in the civil registry, and leave—or more accurately, return home to celebrate the relationship they have nurtured long before officially becoming husband and wife.

In his speech before solemnizing the vows at the mass wedding, Mayor Lucilo Bayron noted that although the title of the 20th Love Affair With Nature was debatable due to the absence of mass gatherings during the pandemic years, the lifelong commitments made by the families of Puerto Princesa were special enough to transcend time.