COTABATO CITY—Sharia law practitioners here are supporting an online petition seeking equal recognition for Philippine Sharia lawyers, and for them to become regular members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Lawyer Abubakar Katambak, president of the Sharia Lawyers’ Association-Central Mindanao Chapter, said an equal recognition by the Supreme Court would allow sharia lawyers to represent indigent parties of sharia civil cases, amid the opening by the Public Attorneys’ Office of positions for sharia counsels.
Katambak, also a member of the regular Philippine Bar, said he joined his fellow sharia lawyers in asserting for recognition by the IBP, and that they should be treated equally as regular IBP members.
Sharia lawyer Lincoln Bagundang, vice president of the group, said the issue was also raised during the sharia lawyers’ general assembly here on Dec. 16, when they hosted House Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema and Maguindanao Assemblyman Khadafeh Mangudadatu of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Legislative Assembly.
Under Presidential Decree 1083, the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines, a member of the Philippine Sharia Bar may be appointed as Sharia circuit court judge, from a short-list of nominees submitted to the President by the Judicial Bar Council.
However, only members of both the Philippine Regular Bar and of the Philippine Sharia Bar can be appointed as judge of a Sharia District Court, an appellate tribunal.
The Philippine Sharia Bar, conducted every two years, is also administered by the Supreme Court, and it is solely the High Tribunal that decides on granting individual petitions to take the Sharia Bar examination.
The Philippine Sharia Bar exams consist of the Code Muslim Personal Laws; Special Rules of Procedures; Jurisprudence (Fiqh), and the Muslim Law on Inheritance and Succession.
Sema noted that only a few from Maguindanao, unlike in Lanao, are members of both the Philippine Regular Bar and the Philippine Sharia Bar, like Katambak and Atty. Gapor Quituar of the Judge Advocate General’s Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Mangudadatu, on the other hand, believed the call for equality of law practitioners came just as the Department of Justice opened new positions for sharia lawyers in the PAO to provide free legal services for indigent parties in sharia court cases.
The idea on sharia lawyers to serve PAO was brought to fore during the term of then-Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong, who wanted his successor, Raul Gonzalez, to implement it.
Datumanong planned to sponsor in Congress, as Maguindanao’s representative, an expanded staffing pattern for PAO to include attorneys’ positions for sharia counsels. Currently, sharia lawyers cannot represent a party to a case in a court of general jurisdiction, like the Regional Trial Court.
The Supreme Court en banc ruled in a previous petition, stressed that a person who passed the Sharia Bar Examination “is a special member of the Philippine Bar, and not a full-fledged member thereof” in Bar Matter No. 681, dated August 5, 1993.
Why did the country create Sharia courts? The Civil Code (Article 87) provides that a civil rite between Muslims and members of the Minority tribes may be celebrated in accordance with their own customs and traditions, and that the officiating party need not secure prior authority or license.
However, the authors of the Civil Code had set a time limit of 30 years within which the same provision would be applicable to Muslim marriages from 1950, when the Code was enacted.
On the advice of the now-defunct Commission on National Integration, the President then codified through PD 1083 the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines on February 7, 1977—or three years before the Civil Code time-frame was to expire in 1980.