High court affirms powers, autonomy of Shariah courts

High court affirms powers, autonomy of Shariah courts

By: - Reporter / @santostinaINQ
/ 05:46 AM November 24, 2023

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed the strengthened role of Shariah courts in the country’s judicial system by emphasizing they are autonomous bodies that need not lean on civil courts.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, the Supreme Court en banc said the 5th Shari’ah District Court (SDC) of Cotabato City erred in dismissing a case based merely on a perceived lack of applicable Muslim law.

“[The Muslim Code] does not limit the SDC’s jurisdiction to actions involving the application of this law’s provisions. On the contrary, the catchall provision grants SDCs jurisdiction over nearly all personal and real actions between Muslims,” said the high court in a statement summarizing the decision.


The high tribunal said SDC dismissed the complaints filed by Annielyn Dela Cruz Maliga and Dr. John Maliga involving loan contracts with interest.


READ: Robin Padilla wants more Shari’ah courts in PH


The petitioners filed the complaints with the SDC following successive payment demands by respondents Dimasurang Unte Jr. and spouses Abraham and Bai Shor Tingao over loans contracted by Annielyn with them.

The petitioners have prayed in their complaints for the extinguishment of the loans and the refund or restitution of all overpayments by the respondents.

Annielyn had paid Unte P8,660,250 for interest alone, despite the principal amount of her loan being only P1,965,000. Annielyn had also paid spouse Tingao P1,452,000 on interest despite the principal amount being only P330,000.

However, the SDC dismissed the complaints because it lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaints because it involved the application of the Usury Law.

This prompted Annielyn and John to challenge the SDC ruling before the high court.

In granting the petitions, the Supreme Court first stressed that an examination of the complaints is essential to determine which court has jurisdiction over an action.


“The nature of an action, and which court or body has jurisdiction over it, is determined based on the allegations in the complaint, regardless if the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon all or some of the asserted claims,” it said.

The high court said in the case of SDCs, Article 143(1)(d) of Presidential Decree No. 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (the Muslim Code) provides that SDCs have exclusive original jurisdiction over, among others, all actions arising from customary contracts where the parties are Muslims. That is if they have not specified which law shall govern their relations.

“Article 143(2)(b) of the same law further states that SDCs have original jurisdiction, concurrent with existing civil courts, over all other personal and real actions not mentioned in Article 143(1)(d), where the parties are Muslims, except those for forcible entry and unlawful detainer,” it added.

READ: Senator wants Muslim Filipinos to have digital access to Shari’a courts

Catchall provision

In effect, this acts as a catchall provision that primarily hinges on the jurisdiction of the parties involved and does not limit the SDCs’ jurisdiction to specific kinds of action. Thus, regardless of the subject matter of the action, the SDC may exercise jurisdiction so long as the parties are Muslims.

“By including a catchall provision on all personal and real actions, the law clearly intended the SDCs to be self-sufficient adjudicatory bodies able to effectively resolve any dispute between and among Muslims,” the high court said.

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It also stressed that SDCs are equipped with the same capabilities as civil courts and SDC judges possess specific expertise in Muslim law and customary law.

TAGS: Autonomy, Shariah, Supreme Court

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