By Rey Panaligan
Which law should prevail in a divorce case or “Talaq” between a Muslim couple who were first married under the Muslim law and later under the country’s civil law?
The Supreme Court (SC) said: “The Muslim Code continues to govern the marital relations of Muslim spouses who first wed under Muslim law rites and decided to wed again under civil law rites.”
With the ruling, the SC denied for lack of merit the petition filed by a Muslim wife against the rulings of both the Shari’a circuit court (SCC) in Tacurong City in 2011 and the Shari’a district court (SDC) in Cotabato City in 2012 granting the “Talaq” filed by her husband.
Case records showed that Rohaina and Abdulgani Sumagka, both Muslims, were married in 1998 in accordance with Muslim law.
Later in 2004, they renewed their marriage vows under civil law in a wedding ceremony solemnized by then municipal mayor Narciso R.A. Grafilo Jr. of Alabel, Sarangani province.
Starting 2006, however, the couple’s marriage started to turn sour when Abdulgani became a policeman and frequently assigned to posts far from their conjugal home.
Rohaina, together with her three children with Abdulgani, decided to live with her parents in General Santos City.
When the couple failed to settle their differences, Rohaina filed a case against her husband for grave misconduct on the ground of infidelity and abandonment.
Abdulgani, in turn, filed a petition for divorce before the SCC based on Article 46 of Presidential Decree No. 1083, the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (Muslim Code).
Article 46 states that “a divorce by ‘Talaq’ may be affected by the husband in a single repudiation of his wife during her non-menstrual period or ‘Tuhr’ within which he has totally abstained from carnal relation with her. Any number of repudiations made during one ‘Tuhr’ shall constitute only one repudiation and shall become irrevocable after the expiration of the prescribed ’Iddah,’” a period a woman must observe after the death of her husband or after a divorce during which she may not marry another man.
Rohaina opposed the petition and claimed that the SCC has no authority or jurisdiction over the divorce case because of their subsequent marriage under the country’s civil law.
The SCC asserted its jurisdiction over the case in an order issued on July 12, 2010.
Consequently, pursuant to Articles 160 and 161 of the Muslim Code, the SCC constituted the Agama Arbitration Council (Agama Council).
On March 14, 2011, the SCC granted Abdulgani’s petition with a ruling that the divorce by “Talaq” is in accordance with the provisions of the Muslim Code. The court issued a decree of divorce with all the conditions on children’s support, Rohaina’s support for her three-month “Iddah” and her right to use her maiden name.
Rohaina appealed the ruling before the SDC which, on Nov. 2, 2011, affirmed the SCC decision. She then filed a petition with the SC.
She reiterated before the SC that the country’s civil law should govern her marriage with Abdulgani and that the report of the Agama Council was invalid because it was not signed by one of the council’s members, Limbong Mamalongpong.
Resolving the petition, the SC said:
“Article 13 of the Muslim Code clearly provides that the Code applies to the marriage and divorce of spouses who are both Muslims.
“Here, it is undisputed that Rohaina and Abdulgani are Muslims whose marriage was first celebrated under Muslim rites. Barely six years after, Rohaina and Abdulgani renewed their wedding vows in a civil ceremony.
“This subsequent civil law marriage did not supersede their previous marriage, such that civil law would now govern. The Muslim Code under which their first marriage was celebrated still applies.
“We agree with the SCC and SDC that the first marriage of Rohaina and Abdulgani is the validating rite while the second marriage is merely ceremonial.
“Thus, in this case, the law of Rohaina and Abdulgani’ s first marriage takes precedence. The nature, incidents, and consequences of their marriage are governed by the Muslim Code. They cannot be any more married than they already were when they subsequently wedded before a municipal mayor.
“In fine, considering that the Muslim Code governs the marriage of Rohaina and Abdulgani, the latter may legally avail of divorce by Talaq under the Code. We also sustain the findings of the SCC and the SDC on the validity of the report of the Agama Council.
“Pursuant to Articles 160 and 161 of the Muslim Code, the SCC or the SDC may constitute an Agama Council to aid the court in cases of divorce by ‘Talaq.’
“We agree with the explanation of the SCC, as affirmed by the SDC, that the reason why the Agama Council allowed Limbong’s signature to be affixed by another person on Limbong’ s behalf was his failure to return on the afternoon session of the arbitration hearings for the mechanical signing of the report. The SCC found that Limbong actively participated in the arbitration proceedings and did not even question the contents of the report.
“Factual findings of the trial court are accorded high respect and are generally not disturbed by the appellate courts, unless found to be clearly arbitrary or baseless. In this connection, we see no reason to deviate from the rulings of the SCC and SDC finding the report to be valid.
“WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The Orders dated November 2, 2011, and January 9, 2012, of the 5th Shari’a District Court of Cotabato City in SDC Appealed Case No. 2011-17 are hereby AFFIRMED.”