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Muslim lawyers ask: Who is Sheriff Abas?

This view came from the Muslim Bar Association of the Philippines (MBAP), which said Abas, a Comelec provincial director in Maguindanao before his new appointment, was reportedly a cousin of MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

“We do not question the appointment of the President of anyone, we just want to raise a question: why now?” said Sultan Firdausi Abbas, MBAP president.

Noting that several competent Muslims have been named to the Comelec in the past without being questioned because most of them were known to the public as effective public servants.

Of Abas, he said, “It appears he is unknown.”

Abbas added that “the little information” they had was that he was closely related to Iqbal.

The number of questions about the new commissioner spurred Oblate priest Eliseo Mercado Jr. to crowd source information about Abas, who is known to be a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and was once a regional director of the Civil Service Commission.

“Many are asking me if I know him personally,” Mercado posted in his public query about Abas.

People who wrote in described Abas as “a young lawyer” who studied at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, and that he was the son of Maguindanao public school principal Mildred Abas.

But even Mindanao folk wondered if there was any truth to the claim that he was Iqbal’s cousin.

Abas was appointed to the Comelec along with its new chairman, former Philippine Commission on Good Government Juan Andres Bautista, and former Cadiz City mayor Rowena Amelia V. Guanzon, as commissioner.

On Tuesday, Abas failed to show up for the Comelec’s en banc meeting.

MBAP’s Abbas said Abas’ appointment to the Comelec seemed like a strategy to secure victory for the MILF in the parliamentary race in the Bangsamoro.

“If this is the case, then the pronouncement that this [BBL] as entered into for the benefit of the Bangsamoro and Filipinos at large for peace and for the development of the country at large in nothing but a bunch of lies,” Abbas said.

He added that if Iqbal had a hand in Abas’ appointment, this would be tantamount to nepotism.

A former Comelec chairman on Wednesday questioned Bautista’s competence to lead the poll agency.

In a report posted at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines website, former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod said Bautista may be a good lawyer but he has no background on election law.

“While he is a good lawyer, he has not been an election lawyer,” the former Comelec executive said in a CBCP News interview.

Monsod said Bautista has a good background in law as dean of the Far Eastern University’s Institute of Law and enjoys a good reputation as an honest person, but he said being an election lawyer was a critical qualification for the position.

Monsod also questioned if Bautista had sufficient management experience, because being Comelec chairman was “primarily a management job.”

Bautista will join six other lawyers in the Comelec, which faces a management problem rather than a legal one, Monsod said.

Asked if the new appointees would have enough time to learn the ropes, Monsod said they will have a “very short learning period.”

He also offered Bautista some unsolicited advice.

“They should immediately connect with their field organization because credible elections are delivered from the ground level,” Monsod said.

Asked what Bautista should do with the controversial automated elections, Monsod said the Comelec commissioners should consult their field personnel and let them recount their personal experiences on automation and how people feel about it.

The former Comelec chairman also said watchdogs should truly “act as watchdogs and not lapdogs”--without mentioning any names.

“I think people know who I am referring to and I call on them not to agree with everything that Comelec says,” he added.

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