OPINION: On appointing a Moro to the Supreme Court

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Nov 16 2016 11:38 PM

It is definitely not a right, but it is just right for a minority group to be represented in a country they call home. 

We have had high-ranking Moros in the executive and legislative branches of government, but hardly any in the judiciary. Historical accounts detail how the courts, even some in Mindanao, have been dominated by migrants from the northern regions, and have consistently failed to bring justice to Moros whose culture and traditions differ from that of the judges’ whose views have been shaped by a different way of life.

Many such cases were rarely elevated to the higher courts, courts where the perspective of the justices were no different from those in the local trial courts. Until now, very few cases from the Shari’a courts are elevated for resolution to the Supreme Court, or even the Court of Appeals. And if cases from the Shari’a courts reach the Supreme Court, there is no assurance that the current justices are adequately equipped to handle such cases. 

This is one of the reasons why many from Mindanao’s largest cultural group do not fully trust the present judicial process. Seeing one of their own in the Supreme Court, however, can help ease doubts among Moros that members of the highest court of the land do not fully understand the Islamic way of administering justice. With Supreme Court decisions becoming laws that would serve as basis for future court decisions, having the correct ruling on cases elevated from Shari’a courts becomes imperative.

Proper Moro representation in the judiciary could be rightfully ensured with resolve by the current administration, and it could begin by appointing a Moro justice in the Supreme Court. In a country where Shari’a is part of the legal landscape, such an appointment would mean much more than mere representation for the Moro in our shared communities. It means representation in the court of last resort, the highest court of the land.

The need to have a qualified Muslim jurist in the country’s highest court is two-fold: there is a need for Moro representation in the Supreme Court and there is a need for better appreciation of cases that require Islamic legal perspectives. 

But said representation must meet certain requirements, and if a candidate has qualifications that could hardly be questioned even by staunchest critics of the president, then such a candidate must be allowed to represent his people and to impart his legal expertise to the court. A good track record on impartiality is a must, and it would be ideal if he has not been identified as someone very close, past and present, to political parties and influential personalities.

Well-versed on the traditional legal system as well as the Islamic legal norms, Moro lawyers are generally better qualified to handle cases involving issues that would otherwise be vague to other lawyers. Needless to say, a Moro justice would be better prepared to tackle the complexities that could arise from such cases that will reach the august halls of the Supreme Court.

It is a good time – and it’s been a long time coming – to have a qualified Moro legal expert appointed to the Supreme Court bench, especially with expected vacancies in the court due to the retirement of two justices before the yearend. 

Justice Jose Portugal Perez would turn 70 on December 14 and Justice Arturo Brion on December 29, and at least one of these two vacancies may be rightfully given to a competent Muslim jurist. However, it must be noted that he would not be the first Muslim justice to occupy a seat at the highest court of the land. 

The late Abdulwahid A. Bidin from Tawi-Tawi and Sulu was nominated in 1987 by then President Corazon C. Aquino and he has served the high court well until he retired in 1995. It has already been more than two decades since the last Moro justice retired.

Now there is somebody who is an ideal candidate for the position, leaders of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) pointed out. He is Justice Japar B. Dimaampao, the youngest judge to be ever appointed to the Court of Appeals. He has been in the Court of Appeals as an appellate judge for 12 years now.

The ARMM’s chief executive has already nominated Dimaampao through a letter to the Judicial and Bar Council which, in turn, will recommend appointees in case of vacancies in various courts of justice. The regional government’s confidence in Dimaampao is not without merit. His resume shows taxation, and commercial and civil law as his expertise. He teaches as a professor of law in a number of universities in Manila, and is also a bar reviewer in law schools and review centers.

He is familiar with the Philippine Islamic law and the intricacies of the Moro’s legal ways as well as its related customs and traditions.

He was a consistent honor student and graduated from both business and law courses at the University of the East in 1982 and 1987 respectively. He passed the Certified Public Accountant’s (CPA) examination at the age of 19 in 1983 could not practice his profession as a CPA since he was too young. In 1987, he passed the bar exams leading to various positions related to exercising his legal expertise in the academe and the government.

It has been more than two decades since the last time a Moro justice served in the Supreme Court. Now is a good time to appoint another, and it would be difficult to find someone more qualified than Dimaampao.

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The writer is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the country's biggest organization of Muslim professionals. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.