SC resolves Marawi land dispute

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THE Shari’a District Court of Marawi City has no jurisdiction over the recovery of possession filed by Muslim individuals against a municipality whose mayor is a Muslim, the Supreme Court (SC) has ruled.

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In a ruling dated January 11, 2017 that was released only recently, the SC’s Third Division granted a petition of the local government of Tangkal, Lanao del Norte as it reversed and set aside assailed orders of the Shari’a court in several civil cases.

Heirs of the late Macalabo Alompo filed a complaint before the Muslim court against the Municipality of Tangkal for recovery of possession and ownership of 25 hectares of land  located in Barangay Banisilon.

The local government unit  moved for reconsideration after losing the case that reached the High Court.

In its decision, the SC held that even if the Shari’a tribunal assumed that juridical persons are capable of practicing religion, “the Municipality of Tangkal is constitutionally proscribed from adopting, much less exercising, any religion, including Islam.”

“The Shari’ a District Court appears to have understood the foregoing principles, as it conceded that the Municipality of Tangkal is neither  Muslim nor Christian. Yet it still proceeded to attribute the religious affiliation of the mayor to the municipality. This is manifest error on the part of the Shari’ a District Court,” its ruling stated.

“It is an elementary principle that a municipality has a personality that is separate and distinct from its mayor, vice mayor, Sanggunian and other officers composing it. And under no circumstances can this corporate veil be pierced on purely religious considerations – as the Shari’ a District Court has done – without running afoul the inviolability of the separation of Church and State enshrined in the Constitution.”

“Since it was clear from the complaint that the real party defendant was the Municipality of Tangkal, the Shari’a District Court should have simply applied the basic doctrine of separate juridical personality and motu proprio dismissed the case,” the SC said.

Jomar Canlas

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