Country Profile: Philippines

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Republic of the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under the Philippines' Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has some legal status. 

Country Background

The Philippines is located in Southeastern Asia, east of Vietnam. It is an archipelago between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. The capital of the Philippines is Manila. The official languages are Filipino and English. The country’s population in 2017 was approximately 104.3 million. The Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, with about 81% of the population Roman Catholic.

Islam is the largest minority religion in the Philippines, with about 5% of the country's population Muslim. A significant number of the Muslims in the Philippines live in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (official website linked here), which is a autonomous region in the Philippines created in 1989 consisting of five Muslim majority provinces: Basilan (except Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Traditionally, the ARMM has been operated as a separate region from the rest of the Philippines, leading the region to develop a distinct cultural identity. After World War II, the ARMM was incorporated into the rest of the Philippines, but conflict between the Filipino government and regional authorities caused the region to declare itself autonomous in 1989. Today, the ARMM is the only autonomous region in the Philippines that has its own government. The ARMM is also one of the most impoverished areas of the Philippines, with a regional domestic product 75% lower than that of the national average. The Philippines requested observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in 2008.

Constitution & Legal Structure

The Philippines is referred to as a presidential republic, in which sovereignty belongs to the people and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The current Constitution was ratified in 1987, and so far, there have been no amendments (though there have been several high profile attempts). The system of government is based on principles of separation and checks and balances and has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Although the government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is largely independent of the national government, it is still beholden to the Constitution and the President maintains supervisory authority over the Regional Governor. The legal system of the Philippines is a mixed legal system of civil and common law. It has been influenced by Islamic, Catholic, and customary law.

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

The Constitution specifically states that the separation of church and state is inviolable. However, religion has had significant influence over the legal system of the Philippines. Regarding Islamic law in particular, the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (Presidential Decree no. 1083) was promulgated and special sharīʿa courts were established, complete with a separate bar examination for Muslim legal scholars. At the civil level and for matters of personal status, these courts are available for Muslims to use all over the country. However, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, both civil and criminal sharīʿa courts are used. Although sharīʿa is a primary source of legislation in the ARMM, its application is somewhat limited by the Constitution in order protect against "cruel and unusual punishments." Both in the ARMM and the overall Philippines, sharīʿa is only applicable to the Muslim population. 

Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law

In general, Islamic law has official jurisdiction in the Philippines as applied to matters of personal status. These are dealt with in the special sharīʿa courts, which the government oversees. However, in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the sharīʿa courts deal with both civil and criminal cases. While punishments are limited by the Constitution, overall, the jurisdiction of Islamic law is far greater in the ARMM than it is elsewhere in the country. 

Dominant School of Islamic Law

The Philippines has no official school of Islamic law. However, the majority of Muslims in the Philippines are Sunnī, adhering to the Shāfiʿī school.

Sources of Law for Legal Research

Official Publications

Unofficial Databases


For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].