My Personal Encounter with Justice Japar B. Dimaampao

By: Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu

The recent appointment of Justice Japar B. Dimaampao to the Supreme Court as the 191st Associate Justice is not just well-received with countless congratulatory greetings from the legal community but more so with words of gratitude from us, the Muslim minorities as we are now represented again in the highest court of the land after 26 years. The late Justice Abdulwahid Bidin was first appointed from 1987 to 1995. This significant representation is the clamor of Muslim Filipinos who are hopeful that the appreciation and advancement of the Shari’ah or Islamic Law in the country will be fully realized.

Prior to his appointment, Justice Dimaampao was the chairperson of Shari’a and Islamic Jurisprudence Department of the Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA). In his previous Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview, he vowed to help enrich jurisprudence on Shari’ah in the country as he strongly believes with humility that he can help the high court in avoiding erroneous decisions on Shari’ah which will eventually amount to injustices to Muslims in this country. He is also a strong advocate for the creation of a Shari’ah appellate court, as mandated by Presidential Decree No.1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines because of his firm belief that even there are few Shari’ah cases, the fact remains that cases involving Shari’ah must still be resolved in accordance with Shari’ah. He also chaired the 2020 Special Shari’ah Bar Exams.

When I passed the Special Shari’ah Bar Exams in 2018 and was excited to practice this specialized field of law, I learned about the challenges we encounter especially for a ‘newbie’ practitioner in Metro Manila, where even a single Shari’ah court does not exist. This inspired me to write on this topic as my thesis for my master’s degree at the University of the Philippines in the same year.

Being familiar with Justice Dimaampao back in my law school at Ateneo de Davao University and how I admired him then as the only Muslim Justice in the Court of Appeals and more so because of the law books he authored, I was determined to interview him as one of my key informants. I thought then that the easier and also proper way was just to email him the questionnaire for him to answer it at his own pace and keeping in mind that his schedule might not warrant a face-to-face interview. Luckily and I was truly grateful, it was not hard for me to get an eventual positive response when I got his reply through his chief of staff, Ma’am Noreen “Chief Taki” Salas.

Worthy to be shared here are some of the questions I asked Justice Dimaampao and his straightforward answers:

Question: What are the challenges when Shari’ah cases are appealed to the Court of Appeals?

Justice JD: Section 7, Article X, RA 11054 otherwise known as the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region Muslim Mindanao” provides that pending the complete organization of the Shari'ah High Court, the decisions of the Shari'ah Courts shall be appealable to the Court of Appeals.

Given that there are three (3) Stations of Court of Appeals, namely, CA-Luzon (Manila), CA-Visayas (Cebu), CA-Mindanao (CDO), decisions of the Shari'ah Courts shall be appealable to the CA-Mindanao (CDO).

Discernibly, the following observations are quite telling:

a) There are no rules of procedure on Shari'ah appealed cases.

b) Associates Justices of the CA-Mindanao (CDO) Station do not possess the requisite knowledge and expertise about Shari'ah.

c) Decisions of the CA-Mindanao (CDO) Station on Shari'ah cases shall be appealable to the Supreme Court purely on questions of law.

Question: For Shari’ah counselors in Metro Manila, one of the challenges they faced is the lack of Shari’ah courts in Metro Manila. How do you think can this be addressed?

Justice JD: This can be addressed through Congressional legislation. Section 12, Article X, RA 11054 provides that the Congress of the Philippines may create Shari'ah courts outside the Bangsamoro Region in areas where considerable number of Muslims reside.

Question: What mechanisms you can suggest to empower Shari’ah counselors into active Shari’ah practitioners?

Justice JD: Shari'ah counselors may embark on the following endeavors to boost their Shari'ah practice:

a) Form and organize Shari'ah Integrated Bar of the Philippines subject to approval, control, and supervision of the Supreme Court;

b) Require Shari'ah counselors to attend Shari'ah Mandatory Continuing Legal Education seminars; and,