EFEManila

Some 350 Filipino couples have been married in a mass civil wedding held in a basketball gymnasium in Manila's commercial district of Malate on Friday morning, just two days ahead of Valentine's Day on Sunday.

One septuagenarian couple, each aged 74 years old, took their wedding vows at the government-sponsored ceremony in San Andres Sports Complex in Malate district today after 42 years of living together out of wedlock.

"We could not get married before because our families did not allow us," said Eduardo Munoz, 74, explaining that his family was Roman Catholic while his partner Angelina Manalo belongs to the Philippine Independent Church, a local religious sect that experienced a schism with the Catholic church in 1902.

"As soon as I saw her I was attracted to her, but her parents did not allow her to marry me because I was not one of them, so we did not go to the altar out of respect for our elders," said Munoz, adding joyously "Now our elders are all dead ... So we can do whatever we want!"

The 2.5-hour nuptial rites were officiated in the flower-decked gymnasium by the former president and current Manila mayor Joseph Estrada with over 1,000 attendees, friends and family members of the brides and grooms.

"It was very lively and happy, with a lot of jokes. The government even gave a flower bouquet and a small money gift in an envelope to each of the newlyweds," said a local photographer at the scene.

Mass weddings are often organized in the Philippines by local governments under the Civil Registrar Offices nationwide to help impoverished couples take their wedding vows.

"Many of these people are here because they want to formalize their relationship, but have no money to even pay a church to marry," said Joey Cabresa, the director of the Registrar's Office for the city of Manila, which spent 350,000 pesos ($7,300) on the nuptial rites for the 350 couples today.

"We host this type of ceremony whenever we can, because for Filipinos, family and unity are very important," said Cabresa.