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A Brief History of the Philippine Code of Muslim Personal Laws

The CMPL is among the many codes ratified during the Marcos era. Though enacted in 1977, it only became "operational" in 1985.

Muslim delegates during the Constitutional Convention of 1971 sowed the seeds for the formulation and eventual ratification of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL). They influenced government policies through a provision that recognizes "national cultural communities" and their corresponding customs and beliefs.

In February 1973, former Senator Mamintal Tamano supplemented the delegates' effort when he gave a memorandum exhorting then President Ferdinand Marcos to issue a decree recognizing Muslim personal laws.

Pres. Marcos heeded Sen. Tamano's call when he issued Memorandum Order (MO) 370 in August 1973. Said memo created a Research Staff to draft the Proposed Code of Philippine Muslim Laws A year later, Executive Order (EO) 442 designated Cesar Majul of the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines (IIS-UP) to lead the Presidential Commission in reviewing the draft code.

The Order stipulated that the realization of the aspiration of the Filipino Muslims to have their system of laws enforced in their communities will reinforce the just struggle of the Filipino people to achieve national unity.

Composition of the Presidential Commission

The Presidential Commission had 11 members: The Dean of the IIS-UP, representatives from the Supreme Cour t (SC), the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the UP Law Center, and the Catholic hierarchy, the Project Officer of the research team formed by MO 370, two Muslim lawyers, and two ulama (religious leaders).

The participation of these men was meant to ensure the adherence of the Code with the country's constitution and to assure the Presidential Commission of the support of key government institutions. The inclusion of a Catholic representative stressed the need for national unity by giving Muslims the legal right to be governed by the personal laws of the Shari'a. Meetings with Muslim lawyers and ulama (religious leaders) helped the Presidential Commission in crafting the Code.

Some provisions of the Code

In congruence with other Muslim societies, the Code integrates mostly Shafi'i teachings with a number of select provisions from other schools. It also stipulated for the establishment of a Shari'a Court System and the Office of Juriconsult in Islamic Law.

Majul further reveals that the Commission "showed sensitivity to the views of educated Muslim at least four articles (Articles 50-53)..." The Code, for instance, added more grounds for divorce and set stringent terms that would make it not so easy for a husband to acquire an additional wife." It also provides for the creation of "an arbitration committee to protect the rights of Muslim wives.

Ratification and implementation of the Code

Pres. Marcos received the group's Final Report and Draft Code in August 1975. However, it only became a law in February 1977 when he signed Presidential Decree (PD) 1083 or the CMPL sans any amendment. Said enactment was an offshoot of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement that his government forged with the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). It was also a conciliatory measure that acknowledged personal normative obligations without seriously undermining Philippine civil law.

The CMPL was not immediately implemented though. The government's Ministry of Muslim Affairs (renamed as the Office of Muslim Affairs in post-Marcos era) established in 1982 "the Philippine Shari'a Institute to provide Shari'a legal education for prospective Shari'a bar examinees, law practitioners and judges."

A year after, the first Special Bar Examinations for the Shari'a Courts was conducted; nine successful candidates were appointed as Shari'a judges and pursued further Islamic studies in Egypt. It was only in 1985 when Shari'a courts opened; thus, the CMPL became operational - eight years after its promulgation.


Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC). n.d. A Primer on the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. (accessed September 18, 2010).

Holbrook, Justin G. 2009. "Legal Hybridity in the Philippines: Lessons in Legal Pluralism from Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago". (accessed September 20, 2010).

Majul, Cesar A. "Problems in the Implementation of the Shari'a". Readings on Islam in Southeast Asia. Compiled by Ahmad Ibrahim, Sharon Siddique, and Yasmin Hussain. (accessed September 23, 2010).

Panditaratne, Dinusha. 2007. "Towards Gender Equity in a Developing Asia: Reforming Personal Laws within a Pluralist Framework". N.Y.U. Review of Law and Social Change. (accessed September 21, 2010).

This article contains excerpts from the author's Shari'a and the Rights of Muslim Women in the Philippines: Examining the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL), a paper drafted for work purposes. Some sections have been modified.

Written by Leann Zarah (

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