DOCTRINE: The law conferring the jurisdiction of Shari’a District Courts is the Code of the Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. Under Article 143 of the Muslim Code, Shari’a District Courts have concurrent original jurisdiction with “existing civil courts” over real actions not arising from customary contracts wherein the parties involved are Muslims. However, this concurrent jurisdiction over real actions “is applicable solely when both parties are Muslims”. When one of the parties is not a Muslim, the action must be filed before the regular courts.

FACTS: Roldan purchased a 300-square-meter parcel of land located in Shariff Kabunsuan, from one Ceres. Transfer Certificate of Title covering the parcel of land was issued in Roldan’s name. Roldan had the parcel of land surveyed. In a report, the Geodetic Engineer found that Vivencio occupied the parcel of land covered by Roldan’s certificate of title.

Failing to settle with Vivencio at the barangay level, Roldan filed an action to recover the possession of the parcel of land with respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court alleging among others that he is a Filipino Muslim

Respondent court took cognizance of the case and caused service of summons on Vivencio. However, despite service of summons, Vivencio failed to file his answer. Thus, Roldan moved that he be allowed to present evidence ex parte, which motion respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court granted. In its decision, respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court ruled that Roldan, as registered owner, had the better right to possess the parcel of land. Thereafter, it issued the notice of writ of execution to Vivencio.

Vivencio filed a petition for relief from judgment with prayer for issuance of writ of preliminary injunction. He argued that Shari’a District Courts may only hear civil actions and proceedings if both parties are Muslims. Considering that he is a Christian, Vivencio argued that respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court had no jurisdiction to take cognizance of Roldan’s action for recovery of possession of a parcel of land. However, respondent court denied the petition.

ISSUE: Does the Shari’a District Court have jurisdiction over real actions where one of the parties is not a muslim even if it decides the action applying the provisions of the Civil Code?

RULING: The Shari’a District Court has NO jurisdiction over real action where one of the parties is not a Muslim. Jurisdiction over the subject matter is “the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong.” This power is conferred by law, which may either be the Constitution or a statute. Since subject matter jurisdiction is a matter of law, parties cannot choose, consent to, or agree as to what court or tribunal should decide their disputes. If a court hears, tries, and decides an action in which it has no jurisdiction, all its proceedings, including the judgment rendered, are void.

The law conferring the jurisdiction of Shari’a District Courts is the Code of the Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. Under Article 143 of the Muslim Code, Shari’a District Courts have concurrent original jurisdiction with “existing civil courts” over real actions not arising from customary contracts wherein the parties involved are Muslims. However, this concurrent jurisdiction over real actions “is applicable solely when both parties are Muslims”. When one of the parties is not a Muslim, the action must be filed before the regular courts.

Considering that Vivencio is not a Muslim, respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court had no jurisdiction over Roldan’s action for recovery of possession of real property. The proceedings before it are void, regardless of the fact that it applied the provisions of the Civil Code of the Philippines in resolving the action.

The application of the provisions of the Civil Code of the Philippines by respondent Fifth Shari’a District Court does not validate the proceedings before the court. Under Article 175 of the Muslim Code, customary contracts are construed in accordance with Muslim law. Hence, Shari’a District Courts apply Muslim law when resolving real actions arising from customary contracts.

In real actions not arising from contracts customary to Muslims, there is no reason for Shari’a District Courts to apply Muslim law. In such real actions, Shari’a District Courts will necessarily apply the laws of general application, which in this case is the Civil Code of the Philippines, regardless of the court taking cognizance of the action.

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