MANILA, Philippines – Three days after Malacañang announced his appointment, not even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) knew much as of Thursday, May 7, about its newly-appointed commissioner, Sheriff Abas.
Without national media coverage, Abas quietly took his oath on Monday, May 4, and visited his office on Wednesday, May 6, as speculations swirled about his identity.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported on Wednesday that Abas is a nephew of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
Iqbal – whose real name, according to Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, is Datucan Abas – refused to confirm or deny this on Thursday.
In an interview with reporters, Iqbal pointed out that Abas will go through the Commission on Appointments, which should confirm his appointment. "He should be asked that question there," Iqbal said in Filipino.
Critics say the government wants to use Iqbal's supposed nephew to influence Comelec-related activities involving the MILF. These include a possible plebiscite on the proposed Bangsamoro region initially headed by Iqbal's group.
But who is Abas in the first place?
On Thursday, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told Rappler his office is still trying to get a profile from Abas or his staff.
Malacañang's statement on Abas only gave the public his name.
The PDI reported that Abas, a 36-year-old alumnus of the Ateneo de Davao University, "was the chief legal officer of the Civil Service Commission based in Cotabato at the time of his appointment."
Oath-taking in Cotabato
Not only is there a dearth of official written statements about Abas. He also has not appeared in national media.
Abas was not in the Comelec headquarters in Intramuros, Manila, when the two other new appointees – Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Rowena Guanzon – took their oath on Monday. (READ: Open up, Comelec chair once told 'gods of Faura')
He was also absent when Bautista and Guanzon met with their colleagues on Tuesday, May 5, their first full day as Comelec members.
Jimenez, however, said Abas "took his oath in Cotabato" on Monday, the day his appointment became public.
He said Abas was also at the Comelec on Wednesday, and "met some of the directors."
"I am not aware if his oath-taking was covered by media, but his visit to the Comelec was not covered," Jimenez said.
Guanzon told Rappler she met Abas on Wednesday, and noted that his mother is an Ilongga like her.
"I'm glad the Commission is complete now. We have lots of work to do," she said.
Abas joins the Comelec as it faces an unprecedented crisis: a Supreme Court ruling that might render 81,000 vote-counting machines useless, sparking fears of a return to manual elections. (READ: 2 bids, 1 choice to seal fate of 2016 elections) – with reports from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.