NEWLY appointed elections commissioner Sheriff Abas has admitted he is the nephew of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, also known as Datukan Abas, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista confirmed Friday.
In an interview with radio dzMM, Bautista said Abas himself made the admission when he showed up at the Comelec office in Intramuros, Manila on Wednesday evening to explain that he could not
yet fully assume his duties at the poll body because he was attending to documentary requirements.
“He told me, yes. They’re related. He is a nephew,” Bautista said, adding that he himself did not know Abas before he was appointed to the position and that he only knew that Abas was a lawyer from Ateneo de Davao University and he was currently with the Civil Service Commission in Cotabato City.
Iqbal was evasive when was asked of his relationship with the new Comelec commissioner.
“In my view, it’s not an issue whether he is my nephew,’’ Iqbal told reporters at the House of Representatives. ‘’I don’t want to answer that because it would lead to something. Pardon me for not answering questions regarding this.”
But a co-convenor of the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections, Melchor Magdamo, on Friday rejected the appointment of Abas, saying the decision of President Benigno Aquino III was “unethical.”
In an interview, Magdamo said he believed that the appointment of Iqbal’s nephew to the Comeelc was in preparation of the plebiscite to be held soon on the Bangsamoro.
“Since a nephew occupies a key position in Comelec which will count the votes, then that is unethical,” Magdamo said.
He said Abas’ appointment could also give the MILF’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party an edge as a regional party running for Congress in 2016.
Because of this, he said, Abas should inhibit himself from deliberations on who are qualified to be political parties or party-list groups.
“He must inhibit himself on all questions involving MILF,” he added.
Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions and C3E co-convenor Eleuterio Tuazon said Aquino was now under pressure from his allies to appoint friendly faces to the Comelec.
He said Bautista was a close ally of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, while newly appointed commissioner Rowena Guanzon was allied with Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
He said Roxas, who intends to run for president in 2016, clearly wanted control of the Comelec.
National Labor Union President Dave Diwa disagreed with Magdamo and Tuazon, however, saying the appointments were “a whiff of fresh air copared to the foul smelling [retired Comelec comissioner Sixto] Brillantes-led Comelec.”
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, a former mutineer, said Malacañang should explain why it appointed Abas.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said Abas’ lack of experience, not his relation to Iqbal, was the problem.
“His being a nephew of MILF chair [Iqbal] is no cause for concern, but his lack of knowledge and experience of elections laws and procedures are,” Bello said.
On Friday, the MILF filed its petition to participate in the 2016 national and local elections, and expressed its intent to run as a regional political party.
IIn its petition for the registration and accreditation as a regional political party, the MILF’s United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) said it would like to legitimize the cause of Bangsamoro people and recognize the democratic process by registering with the Comelec.
“The creation of a political party would allow the Bangsamoro to participate in a democratic and peaceful process to advance their legitimate causes,” UBJP president Yesser Ebrahim, who signed the petition filed before the Comelec, said.
“Political exclusion has been one of the causes of the Mindanao conflict that stymied the progress and development, not only of the Bangsamoro but also of the Philippines,” Ebrahim said in the petition.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the petition showed that there was a “very obvious... effort [on the part of the MILF] to go mainstream” and to choose ballots rather than bullets.
He said any organizations opposed to the UBJP should file a petition contesting its application.
“If there are those that are against it, they should come forward,” Jimenez said.
The Omnibus Election Code says “any organized group of persons seeking registration as a national or regional political party may file with the commission a verified petition attaching its constitution and by-laws, platform or program of government and such other relevant information as may be required by the Commission”.
However, “no religious sect or a political party that seeks to achieve its goal through violence shall be entitled to accreditation as a political party.”
The MILF filing comes amid the appointment of Iqbal’s nephew, Abas, as an elections commissioner.
Also on Friday, Senate President Franklin Drilon denied claims that newly appointed commissioner Rowena Guanzon, he former colleague at the ACCRA Law Office, was appointed to ensure a victory for Roxas in 2016.
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) earlier accused the Palace of appointing Guanzon to benefit Roxas. – With Maricel V. Cruz and Macon Ramos Araneta