Municipality of Tangkal v. Balindon, GR 193340, 11 January 2017
The private respondents, heirs of the late Macalabo Alompo, filed a Complaint with the Shari'a District Court of Marawi City (Shari'a District Court) against the petitioner, Municipality of Tangkal, for recovery of possession and ownership of a parcel of land with an area of approximately 25 hectares.
They alleged that Macalabo was the owner of the land, and that in 1962, he entered into an agreement with the Municipality of Tangkal allowing the latter to "borrow" the land to pave the way for the construction of the municipal hall and a health center building. The agreement allegedly imposed a condition upon the Municipality of Tangkal to pay the value of the land within 35 years, or until 1997; otherwise, ownership of the land would revert to Macalabo. Private respondents claimed that the Municipality of Tangkal neither paid the value of the land within the agreed period nor returned the land to its owner. Thus, they prayed that the land be returned to them as successors-in-interest of Macalabo.
The Municipality of Tangkal filed an Urgent Motion to Dismiss on the ground of improper venue and lack of jurisdiction. It argued that since it has no religious affiliation and represents no cultural or ethnic tribe, it cannot be considered as a Muslim under the Code of Muslim Personal Laws. Moreover, since the complaint for recovery of land is a real action, it should have been filed in the appropriate Regional Trial Court of Lanao del Norte.
The Shari'a District Court denied the motion to dismiss. It held that since the mayor of Tangkal, Abdulazis A.M. Batingolo, is a Muslim, the case "is an action involving Muslims, hence, the court has original jurisdiction concurrently with that of regular/civil courts." It added that venue was properly laid because the Shari'a District Court has territorial jurisdiction over the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, in addition to the cities of Marawi and Iligan.
The Municipality of Tangkay filed a motion for reconsideration but was denied. Hence this present petition claiming its earlier position that the Shari'a District Court has no jurisdiction.
Whether or not the Shari'a District Court of Marawi City has jurisdiction in an action for recovery of possession filed by Muslim individuals against a municipality whose mayor is a Muslim.
The petition was granted.
The Shari'a District Court had no jurisdiction under the law to decide private respondents' complaint because not all of the parties involved in the action are Muslims.
Consistent with the purpose of the law to provide for an effective administration and enforcement of Muslim personal laws among Muslims, it has a catchall provision granting Shari'a district courts original jurisdiction over personal and real actions except those for forcible entry and unlawful detainer. The Shari'a district courts' jurisdiction over these matters is concurrent with regular civil courts, i.e., municipal trial courts and regional trial courts. There is, however, a limit to the general jurisdiction of Shari'a district courts over matters ordinarily cognizable by regular courts: such jurisdiction may only be invoked if both parties are Muslims. If one party is not a Muslim, the action must be filed before the regular courts.
In determining whether the Shari'a District Court has jurisdiction over the case, the threshold question is whether both parties are Muslims. There is no disagreement that private respondents, as plaintiffs below, are Muslims. The only dispute is whether the requirement is satisfied because the mayor of the defendant municipality is also a Muslim.
Section 2 of Rule 3 of the Rules of Court defines real parties in interest as those who stand to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit or are entitled to the avails of the suit. In this case, the parties who will be directly benefited or injured are the private respondents, as real party plaintiffs, and the Municipality of Tangkal, as the real party defendant. It is clear from the title and the averments in the complaint that Mayor Batingolo was impleaded only in a representative capacity, as chief executive of the local government of Tangkal. When an action is defended by a representative, that representative is not-and neither does he become-a real party in interest.
That Mayor Batingolo is a Muslim is therefore irrelevant for purposes of complying with the jurisdictional requirement that both parties be Muslims. To satisfy the requirement, it is the real party defendant, the Municipality of Tangkal, who must be a Muslim. Such a proposition, however, is a legal impossibility.