MANILA, Philippines—The country’s Shari’a district courts have no jurisdiction over real property suits where one of the parties is not a Muslim, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The high court’s Third Division, in a ruling dated April 23, voided the judgment rendered by the 5th Shari’a District Court in Cotabato City in a civil case concerning ownership of a parcel of land in Parang, Maguindanao, because the respondent was a non-Muslim.
Consequently, the proceedings in the district court were also nullified, although the complainant may file a new case in a regular municipal trial court, the Supreme Court said in the 20-page decision written by Justice Marvic Leonen.
The other division members—Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, Jose Mendoza and Roberto Abad— concurred in the decision.
The case stemmed from a suit filed by Roldan Mala to eject an allegedly illegal occupant, Vivencio Villagracia from a 300-square meter property in Parang town.
Mala said he bought the property in 1996 but Villaragracia claimed he had an original title issued in 2002 by the Land Registration Authority covering the same lot.
After barangay conciliation failed, Roldan filed a case in the Shari’a district court to evict Villagracia.
When Villagracia failed to answer the summons issued by the Shari’a court, it rendered a decision in June 2008 ordering him to vacate the property and pay Mala P15,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. The writ of execution was issued in December the same year.
The following January, however, Villagracia filed a petition for relief from judgment, claiming the Shari’a court made a mistake since it did not have jurisdiction over him because he was a Christian and under Presidential Decree No. 1058, or the 1977 Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines, Shari’a courts may only hear civil actions and proceedings if both parties were Muslims.
The Shari’a court, however, junked his petition in June for lack of merit, saying that Villagracia no longer had a right to question the ruling since he had failed to reply to the summons.
The Shari’a court said it had applied the Civil Code, not Islamic law, in resolving the dispute and insisted on its jurisdiction over both Villagracia and the suit.
In August, Villagracia filed a case for certiorari in the Supreme Court, which, after obtaining the comments from the Shari’a court and Mala, ruled in favor of Villagracia.
The justices affirmed that under PD 1058, Shari’a courts and regular courts have concurrent jurisdiction over personal and real property suits. However, it said that while the 5th Shari’a District Court was correct in applying the Civil Code and not Islamic law in resolving Villagracia’s case, it could not exercise its concurrent jurisdiction validly since Mala was not a Muslim.
“When it became apparent that Villagracia was not a Muslim, respondent Shari’a district court should have motu proprio dismissed the case. Jurisdiction is conferred by law, and lack of it affects the very authority of the court to take cognizance of and to render judgment on the action,” they added, citing a decision issued by the Supreme Court in 2005.
The justices noted that Villagracia filed his petition directly with the Supreme Court instead of the Shari’a Appellate Court, which has yet to be established even if it is mandated under Republic Act No. 9054, or the 2001 amended organic act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that until the Shari’a Appellate Court was organized, a special division of the Court of Appeals, preferably composed of Muslim justices, shall hear appeals of the decisions of the Shari’a district courts.
“[W]e call for the organization of the court system created under RA 9054 to effectively enforce the Muslim legal system in our country. After all, the Muslim legal system—a legal system complete with its own civil, criminal, commercial, political, international and religious laws—is part of the law of the land, and Shari’a courts are part of the Philippine judicial system,” the justices said.