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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,

c) Encourage Shari'ah counselors to render free legal assistance to the underprivileged litigants.

Question: What do you think still needs to be done for the development of Shari’ah in the Philippines?

Justice JD: In this day and age, Shari'ah in the Philippines should keep pace with the subject of contemporary Shari'ah – IJTIHAD (independent reasoning/effort), MAQASID-AL – Shari'ah (goals or objectives of Shari'ah), and MASLAHA (welfare or public interest).

Moreover, the Philippine Shari'ah System should encompass civil, commercial and penal aspects. This necessitates Congressional legislation.

Imagine how ecstatic I was to get these responses that paved the way for me to finish my thesis and eventually, graduate from UP in 2019. But not only that, something unexpected when Chief Taki emailed me back with these words: “Good afternoon again, Zen. Attached are the answers of Justice Dimaampao. Maybe it would be nice that you come to the office to personally thank Justice Dimaampao?” Wow, I almost cannot believe what I have read! It was beyond a wish come true for me because I really thought it was not possible to meet him in person.

But I did! On May 16, 2019, I left my workplace in Congress earlier and at around 11 in the morning, I arrived at the Court of Appeals. It was Ramadan (fasting month for Muslims) and I was immediately instructed by his staff to go inside. I met Justice Dimaampao alone in his office silently reading the Holy Qur’an but stopped as he invited me to take a seat. We talked more about Shari’ah in the Philippines beyond what I had asked him in my interview questionnaire. He was so very accommodating that when I inquired about the Shari’ah cases that reached the Supreme Court, he recited them all and feeling not contented with seems like a teacher-student moment for us, he stood up and seemed to memorize the placement of SCRA volume in his office where these cases are found, directly flipping the exact pages without looking first at the table of contents. He is indeed a genius! I shared his sentiment and frustration, which he also mentioned in his JBC interview that most of these decisions are not resolved in accordance with Shari’ah and existing Islamic jurisprudence. My one-on-one conversation with him went on to other topics like the Leonen Bar Exams, the 77 new sections in the Corporation Code, TRAIN law, proposed revisions of the Rules of Court and Revised Penal Code, Bangsamoro Organic Law, his several nominations to the Supreme Court and how he persevered to continuously pursue it, and we also talked about politics. Mind you, I did not expect to be so comfortable with our conversation but at the same time overwhelmed talking to him because he is so grounded and very humble. Before I left, I promised to have a courtesy visit again when I passed the regular bar and told him that hopefully by then, his office will be at the Supreme Court. He smiled and responded, “Basta take ka lang ulit!” This makes a lot of sense to me now with his recent appointment to SC when the media published his previous JBC interview back in January 2021 when he had this to say after years of getting bypassed: “Your honor, allow me to say. I applied again for the 14th time because of my firm belief and conviction in two Qur’anic injunctions. First, indeed God is with those who patiently persevere. Second, God is the final disposer of affairs. Likewise, your honor, I find optimism in the old saying “Hope springs eternal”. In the fullness of time, God will grant one’s plea.” His perseverance and faith in God truly inspires me more not just in planning to retake the bar exams but more so in whatever I want to achieve in life.

I had a chance to meet with Justice Dimaampao in November 2019 when he was invited to visit my new workplace, the Bangsamoro Parliament in Cotabato City. I was grateful to have personally thanked him for his invaluable help in my master’s thesis. I told him I finally graduated from UP. No picture with him this time as he was escorted in the crowd when he exited the plenary hall but grateful also for his reply: “Tama, tama ikaw yun, I remember you.” That was surreal!

I thought the long wait was over when sometime in June last year, I saw congratulatory posts on Facebook. I emailed again his staff, this time to confirm the news but this was her immediate reply: “Good pm po. Hindi pa po appointed si Justice. The SC En Banc held today its voting and Justice Dimaampao was included from among those who will endorse to President Duterte for appointment. Please pray po that he gets it.”

Eventually on September 14, 2021, I finally got this most awaited email reply from Chief Taki: “Good evening po. Sorry for the late reply. Justice Dimaampao took his oath before CJ Gesmundo close to early evening.”

Alhamdulillah (All Praises to Allah)! It’s long overdue but finally, it’s here! I joined the whole legal community and Muslim Filipinos in breaking this good news and congratulating Justice Dimaampao and at the same time wish him all the best in the Supreme Court. No doubt, he would surely perform well with his high level of competence, the same if not even better from his 17 years experience as a multi-awarded Court of Appeals Justice.

With his recent appointment, I just can’t help but reminisce vividly my personal encounter with him back in 2019. It was just a one-hour meeting but that one-on-one conversation with him made me witnessed personally his strong faith in God, his brilliance, his integrity, and his humility that inspired many. I have nothing but full admiration and respect for him. Hail to the Justice!

Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu is a Sama-Tausug from Jolo, Sulu. She currently works in the Bangsamoro Parliament in Cotabato City. She is also a part time Shari’ah practitioner. This is her second feature in Barrista Solutions. She was first featured in Barrista Profiles in March 2021.

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