Creation of tribal court in Kidapawan ‘unconstitutional’ – NCIP lawyer

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 1 Aug) – A lawyer working for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in Region 12 has lauded the legislation that seeks to establish a tribal court in Kidapawan City, but highly suggested to fine-tune it as some of the terms used might be deemed “unconstitutional.”

Lawyer Adolf Lantion, hearing officer for the NCIP, said the ordinance passed early June this year by the city council used terms like “court,” “appointment of judge,” and “exclusive jurisdiction.”

These terms, he explained, have ordinary meanings, which could stir some confusion or misperception.

‘Exclusive jurisdiction’

For one, Lantion said, the ordinance used the words “exclusive jurisdiction” to describe the Ovu-Manobo tribal court that would be established in the city.

He said he used as basis some of the provisions in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) when they submitted their opinion on the issue at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Cotabato.

The provincial council sought the NCIP’s institutional opinion as to how they would view the ordinance crafted by the Kidapawan City council.

The ordinance was submitted to the provincial council on July 2.

Mayor Joseph Evangelista has earlier vetoed the ordinance, saying it contradicts IPRA, which is a national law.

The council, however, overruled Evangelista’s veto and submitted instead such legislation to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for review.

“When you use the words ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ … these are legal terms. We’re worried about this. The truth is, they should not be talking of ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ in putting up the tribal court. It’s just a requirement that a case needs to go through the Katarungang Pambarangay (Barangay Justice System) where both parties, or the complainant and the respondent, are living in one barangay,” Lantion said.

‘Establishment of tribal court’

The city ordinance has also used the term “court,” which according to Lantion could cause “misunderstanding.”

“Under our Constitution, the authority to create and abolish courts belongs only to Congress. Although the Sangguniang Panlungsod has legislative powers, they’re not the Congress to which the Constitution refers to,” the NCIP hearing officer said.

In short, he said, the city council has no authority to establish a court.

‘Appointment of judges in tribal court’

Aside from the terms “court” and “exclusive jurisdiction,” the ordinance has also used the words “appointment of judges.”

For Lantion, the “appointment of a judge” is a judicial function that belongs solely to the Supreme Court.

“If there will be appointment of judges for the Ovu-Manobo tribal court that will be established, which is not through the Supreme Court, we in the NCIP think it will be declared unconstitutional,” he pointed out.

On Friday, Lantion appeared before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for a committee hearing on the issue.

Lantion said the ordinance has stirred “misinterpretation … because it mentioned in one of its provisions that the Ovu-Manobo tribal court has quasi-judicial functions.”

“If you read the IPA and the Local Government Code of 1991, the tribal court should not have adjudicatory powers but only mediation and conciliation, on the level of the Katarungang Pambarangay,” Lantion said. (Malu Cadelina Manar / MindaNews)