Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo was taken by surprise when, on February 3, Marawi City fiscal Elias Yusoph suddenly showed up in his office with an appointment letter from Malacañang. He was tasked to finish the term of Commissioner Romeo Brawner, who died of a heart attack in May 2008.
“He came from nowhere. Like a lightning,” Melo--who, until then, had not met or heard of Yusoph--told reporters.
Election observers in Metro Manila were as shocked that someone unheard of prevailed over bigger names that have mentioned. People from the Department of Justice, private law firms, and information technology community, among others, some backed by poll watchdog groups, have been nominated to or sought the position.
The National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, on Wednesday, questioned Yusoph’s appointment. “Malacañang did not hold consultations in choosing Yusoph. Even Comelec chief Jose Melo knew nothing about his appointment. The public has the right to doubt Comelec in the coming 2010 elections,” said Henrietta de Villa, who chairs both election watchdog groups.
But in Marawi City, Yusoph’s appointment was welcomed. Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak was able to interview people who know Yusoph. They said that he is good for the job, and they expect a lot of things from him.
“He may look like Osama bin Laden but I’ve never seen this guy carry a gun. That’s something here,” said Aminullah Lucman, a cousin of Yusoph and a member of the Ninoy Aquino Movement USA ’84.
Who is Yusoph, and how did he get the coveted position of Comelec commissioner?
Backed by Bishops-Ulama
Yusoph, a Muslim, has served the government for at least 20 years. He is a prosecutor in Marawi City. He was backed by the Bishops-Ulama Conference, which is headed by influential religious leaders Archbishop Fernando Robles Capalla, Bishop Hilario Gomez Jr. of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, and Dr. Hamid Bara of the Ulama League of the Philippines.
His biodata shows that he has also served as assistant fiscal, city legal officer, city special counsel, special prosecutor, and college instructor. He was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1977.
“His selection as one of the commissioners is indeed a very good choice. We are sure that his performance in the Comelec will show the important role of Muslims in reforming Comelec practices in the country. We are congratulating the president for a very good choice,” said Salipada Tamano, a member of the Bishops-Ulama Conference and former president of the Mindanao State University-Marawi.
Election lawyer Sixto Brillantes had also not heard of Yusoph, but he sees him as replacement of Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon. At least one slot is traditionally allotted to someone from Mindanao. Macarambon, who is also from Lanao del Sur, was bypassed by the Commission on Appointments. Malacañang did not renew his appointment.
“He’s a fiscal. He must be good in prosecution,” Brillantes said. “His experience as prosecutor can assist Comelec in dealing with elections cases."
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has historically been beset with electoral fraud. The region’s tag as “cheating capital” intensified after the “Hello, Garci” controversy, where former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who hails from Mindanao, allegedly helped President Arroyo win in the 2004 presidential elections.
Yusoph comes from the politically-influential Alonto clan. He is related to ARMM Vice Gov. Ansarrudin Adiong and Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr..
But those who know him say that Yusoph has always preferred to be “low profile.” Lucman said he is surprised Yusoph agreed to take the position.
Samira Gutoc, one of Yusoph’s law students, said Yusoph advocates reforms in government but “he doesn’t attack politicians.”
“He has a very credible record. He has high moral ascendancy. Although he is connected to many locals, he is insulated from local politics,” Gutoc said.
Gutoc, a journalist and supporter of various NGOs pushing for Muslim empowerment, has occasionally invited Yusoph to speak at conferences.
Asked what would be Yusoph’s biggest contribution to Comelec, Gutoc cited Yusoph’s advocacy against vote-buying.
Yusoph is a member of the Al-Manar Philipipnes, a local group of Muslim professionals advocating religious, political, and socio-economic reforms. He has appeared in local radio and television shows to promote reforms.
Yusoph has strongly opposed vote-buying. Gutoc said Yusoph blamed vote-buying for the “dirty politics” in Mindanao. “If your votes are for sale, it’s no longer the choice of the people," Gutoc said, quoting Yusoph.
Gutoc said Yusoph can also use his “conflict resolution skills in the traditional way.”
Lucman agreed. “He can be an arbitrator, tasked to handle very difficult cases."
Yusoph is also an active supporter of the Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Governance headed by the late Dr. Mahid Mutilan, a Muslim leader and peace advocate.
“He is a reform lawyer in the province of Lanao del Sur. He’s a very good asset. We need an official like him,” Tamano said.