Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Code of Muslim Personal Laws: Issues and Other Related Laws*

The Philippines is home to many Muslims.
Apart from the protracted hostilities between the Moros and the State, the Philippines during the 1970s saw the post-colonial conception of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL). The Code was in compliance to Article XV Section II of the 1973 Constitution: “The State shall consider the customs, traditions, beliefs and interests of national cultural communities in the formulation and implementation of state policies…” It codified Muslim laws on marriage, divorce, property relations, and child custody, among others.

The enacted Code though was limited to personal laws because of the limited preparation time to deliberate on other legal provisions, as the Civil Code statutes related to Muslims were about to end. The CMPL then was meant to thwart a legal problem that could weaken the political identity of Muslim institutions.

Implementation issues of the CMPL and other related Philippine laws

The Code was not immediately implemented though. According to the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), the government’s Ministry of Muslim Affairs (renamed as the Office of Muslim Affairs in post-Marcos era) established the Philippine Shari'a Institute in 1982 “to provide Shari’a legal education for prospective Shari’a bar examinees, law practitioners and judges.” A year after, the first Special Bar Examinations for the Shari’a Courts was conducted; nine successful candidates were appointed as Shari’a judges and pursued further Islamic studies in Egypt. It was only in 1985 when Shari’a courts opened; thus, “the CMPL became operational – eight years after its promulgation.”

In his Sociolegal Status of Women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand (2002), Brahm Prakash notes that the 1987 Constitution, under Pres. Corazon Aquino, stipulates in Article XIV, Section XVII the need to recognize, respect, and protect “the rights of indigenous cultural communities to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions, and institutions. It also advocates the consideration of such rights when forming national plans and policies.” Other statutes related to Shari’a were enforced in 1989 via RA 6734 or the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and in 2001, with the Expanded ARMM Law or RA 9054. The latter allows the creation of a Shari’a legal system by the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) that would cover ARMM, Muslims “or those who profess Islam”. It also sanctions the founding of a Shari’a Appellate Court with jurisdiction over Shari’a District Courts, notes AIJC (n.d.). However, such legal system by the RLA and the appellate court have not been established yet.

Call for revisions of the CMPL

Last year, a Muslim representative filed House Bill (HB) 6337 in order for the government to establish more Shari’a courts. The bill essentially aims to improve the access of Muslims to legal services, considering that out of the current 85 million Filipinos, eight million are Muslims. This time, however, these courts should be instituted in localities outside of the ARMM where a considerable number of Filipino Muslims reside, reports Gilbert Felongco (2009).

Clearly, the preceding accounts show the rough journey Filipino Muslims have gone through since Western colonization began. The struggle towards self-determination still exists and the road towards an independent Bangsamoro may seem too far from now. Apart from implementation issues, the CMPL has provisions that discriminate against women. Thus, as long as existing Muslim institutions, processes, and practices remain patriarchal, genuine peace and progress will remain evasive. It is imperative then to ensure that Muslim women’s rights are promoted, protected, and respected.

  • Alternative Law Groups (ALG). 2005. Tuning in to Women's Voices on Justice. Women's Legal Education, Advocacy, and Defense Foundation, Inc. (accessed September 24, 2010).
  • Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC). n.d. A Primer on the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. (accessed September 18, 2010).
  • Felongco, Gilbert. 2009. "Creation of more Shariah courts across the country pushed Philippine lawmaker tables bill for more Sharia courts". Gulf News. (accessed September 21, 2010).
  • Holbrook, Justin G. 2009. “Legal Hybridity in the Philippines: Lessons in Legal Pluralism from Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago”. (accessed September 20, 2010).

*This article contains excerpts from the author's "Shari’a and the Rights of Muslim Women in the Philippines: Examining the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL)", a paper drafted for work purposes.

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