Legislators want Shari’ah courts in DC

The resolution was sponsored by Councilor Amilbangsa Manding, President of the Association of Barangay Councils, to help free the regular courts of cases involving Muslims. Estimated at around 150,000, Muslims here constitute 10% of the Davao City’s 1.4 million population. 

The 1977 Code of Muslim Personal Laws recognized the legal system of Muslims in the country as part of the laws of the land and sought to make Islamic institutions more effective by codifying Muslim personal laws, and provided for the administration and enforcement of Muslim personal laws among Muslims through the Shari'ah courts.  

But for Dr. Hamid Barra of the King Faisal Center at the Mindanao State University, the problems of the present system of Shari‘ah Law are more fundamental than issues of implementation.

In a roundtable on ARMM issues in Marawi City in 2004, he asserted that the Code of Muslim Personal Laws “cannot be considered Shari‘ah Law if we go by the classical definition of Shari‘ah.” 

According to him, the Code is more of a human interpretation of the law (Fiqh) which is not eternal and not unchangeable while the Shari‘ah is the divine law, Allah’s commandments to man which is unchangeable and eternal. Since it is a Divine Law, the Shari‘ah cannot be subject to any legislation. As part of Fiqh, the present Code of Muslim Personal Laws is merely a piece of legislation."

The Shari'ah courts are part of the country's judicial system. The Shari'ah district court is equivalent to the Regional Trial Court while the Shari'ah circuit court is similar to the municipal and city trial courts.  

The Sharia’h courts are under the Supreme Court of the Philippines. 

Manding said the 1977 law needs updating. The law provided for the creation of five district courts in Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga City, Marawi City, and Cotabato City and 51 circuit courts in neighboring localities.  There are six circuit courts in Sulu, eight in Tawi-tawi, ten in and for the provinces of Basilan, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur; and the cities of Dipolog, Pagadian, and Zamboanga. There are also 12 in and for the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, and the cities of Iligan and Marawi; and 15 in and for the provinces of Maguindanao North Cotabato,and Sultan Kudarat and the city of Cotabato. 

Manding said the Muslim Code applies to all Muslims in the Philippines but similar courts were not created in Muslim communities outside the areas earlier identified.

Davao City is among those without Shari’ah courts. He said the district and circuit Shari'ah courts in Davao City should serve Muslims around the Southeastern Mindanao region. 

He said in the resolution that the absence of Shari’ah courts in the region would mean "disenfranchisement" and "dismemberment"  and technically deny local Muslims their rights under the Muslim Code, rights enjoyed by fellow Muslims in other areas in Mindanao.  

Manding told MindaNews the move requires an act of Congress so they have to send a copy of the resolution to the Senate and the House of Representatives.  He said once created, Sharia’h courts will free regular courts of cases involving Muslims as parties to cases. Faster resolution of cases, he said, will help contribute to public safety and order. 

He said they will have to lobby with both houses’ Congress committees on justice.

The Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is actually mandated by the Organic Act creating the ARMM, to establish Shari’ah courts, expand its jurisdiction and determine the direction of the Shari‘ah in the Philippines.  

The ARMM, however, comprises only five provinces and two cities among Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities. The ARMM is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the cities of Marawi in Lanao del Sur and Lamitan in Basilan. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)