A Muslim in the Supreme Court
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas () - September 22, 2009 - 12:00am

The Philippine Supreme Court was established on June 11, 1901, but in its 108 years of existence, only one representative of the Muslim community has served it as associate justice. This was Justice Abdulwahid Bidin of Sulu who was appointed by the late President Corazon Aquino on Jan. 17, 1987, and who retired on April 7, 1995. Fourteen years after Bidin’s death, no Muslim lawyer- judge has sat in the High Tribunal.            

It’s time a second Muslim sat in the highest court of the land. His appointment will be in keeping with the intent and spirit of the Peace Agreement of 1996 signed by the GRP-Panel and the Moro National Liberation Front Panel which provides that it shall be the policy of the national government to have at least one justice in the Supreme Court and at least two justices in the Court of Appeals coming from among qualified jurists in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The provision of this agreement was subsequently incorporated into Republic Act No. 9054, which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved on March 31, 2001.

Prior to the agreement and laws, the government has provided for Muslim representation in the appellate courts. Thus there have been five Muslim justices serving in the Court of Appeals, namely the late Justice Mama Busran of Marawi City; the late Justice Abdulwahid A. Bidin of Tawi-Tawi who was later appointed as associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and, from Sulu, the late Justice Asaali Isnani, Justice Jainal D. Rasul, and Justice Omar U. Amin. At present, two CA justices are Hakim S. Abdulhawid of Tawi-Tawi and Japar D. Dimaampao of Marawi City.

The appointment of competent Muslims to key positions in government is a strong demonstration of   redistributing decision-making powers to minority groups. On October 5, Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago is set to retire, and perhaps the seat she leaves vacant should be given to Court of Appeals Justice Hakim Abdulwahid, who had already been nominated to the post by the Judicial and Bar Council twice, when Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez retired on April 30, and Justice Dante O. Tinga, on May 11.

There will be two other vacancies this year when Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing retires on November 6 and Justice Minita Chico-Nazario on December 5. But the early appointment of Justice Abdulwahid — if possible — to fill the seat left vacant upon Justice Ynares-Santiago’s retirement on   October 5 will be in keeping with the mandate of the 1996 peace agreement, and — if one were to listen to the clamor of the Muslim community for its immediate representation in the High Tribunal.

It does not mean that appointing a Muslim means cases involving Muslims will be expeditiously disposed of, and in their favor. Rather, a Muslim jurist indicates the government’s recognition of the talent and skills of a member of the Muslim minority, acting, as he should, on all cases — no matter the religious, racial, or ethnic minority of the litigants - raffled to him for decision.

There are 51 justices in 17 Court of Appeals divisions, and Abdulhawid is chair of the 14th division. Judicial records show his expediency in resolving decisions. When he assumed office at the CA on March 10, 2003, thrust into his hands were 350 cases submitted for decision, and 250 for completion. His personal data sheet shows that his output for the last five years has been 19.34 cases per month, 14.44 of them disposed by decision, and 4.90 cases by resolution. Added to these are about 15 cases raffled to him every month. The number and percentage of cases he disposed of in the past five years has been 1160 (with 866 cases disposed by decision and 294 cases by resolution). Of cases he disposed of, 98.2 per cent were affirmed, and only 1.8 per cent was reversed by the Supreme Court. As of December 2008, his caseload was 17 cases.

These statistics clearly show the diligence and expediency with which he makes decisions, thus reducing a backlog of cases in his sala. As we know, backlogs can take years to inclog by justices and judges — in many cases the decisions come long after the litigants have passed away. It’s comforting to know that there are jurists who move quickly, in effect erasing from the public perception the idea of the wheels of justice in the Philippines moving ever so slowly.

Prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeals, Abdulwahid was appointed judge, and later, presiding judge, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 12 of Zamboanga City, a regular court and concurrently a designated special court for corporate cases. At the same time, he was pairing judge of RTC, Branch 13, and a special court for drug cases. Earlier, because of lack of judges, the Supreme Court assigned him as assisting judge of the RTC of Basilan Province and then, for five years, as acting presiding judge of RTC of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi. Altogether, he has served the judiciary for 20 years.

Hakim was born in Talisay, Sibutu, Tawi-Tawi on June 12, 1945. His early school records note his diligence as a student. He graduated valedictorian at the Sibutu Central Elementary School and salutatorian at the Zamboanga City High School. He obtained his bachelor of arts, major in political science in 1967, and bachelor of laws, 1971, from the University of the Philippines as a scholar of the then Commission on National Integration (CNI). He was admitted to the bar in 1972.

At present he is a professional lecturer on the Shari’a and Islamic jurisprudence at the Philippine Judicial Academy. He was a Shari’a bar examiner, and law professor at the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) College of Law and Unibersidad de Zamboanga (formerly Zamboanga Arturo Eustaquio Colleges). He served as clerk of court of the then Court of First Instance of Zamboanga City; chief legal counsel of the Philippine Amanah Bank, later as executive labor arbiter of the National Labor Relations Commission, and then       regional director of the Department of Labor and Employment, Region IX.

He is married to the former Naida Edding of Zamboanga del Norte, by whom he has four daughters.

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My e-mail address: dominimt2000@yahoo.com

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