September 17th, 2012
Numbers Don’t Lie
By ANDREW JAMES MASIGAN
September 16, 2012, 5:03pm
MANILA, Philippines — Millions of taxpaying citizens are now speaking up against self-promoting public officials who take undue credit for projects built with public funds. To the locals, they are called “Epals”.
Epals are opportunists of the most insidious kind. They are politicos who plaster their names on newly built roads, bus shelters or basketball courts to ingratiate themselves to the voting public. They are the characters who inscribe their initials on public structures, insinuating that such were built using their own funds. They are the types who name public schools after themselves or their ancestors and display hideous banners of themselves in every town fiesta, baptism and funeral.
These “public servants” expect to be credited for work they voluntarily run for office to do. They deceive the public by diminishing the role of the national government (from whom funds originate from) to amplify their own. They perpetuate crass behavior unbecoming of a public servant, one that sends a signal to the youth that it is all right to be shameless in the political field. Above all, they circumvent the law by waging a campaign way ahead of the Comelec’s mandated campaign period.
In my eyes and in the eyes of millions, epals are despicable and represent all that is bad about Filipino politicians. Their ways are precisely the reason why politicos have very little credibility as lawmakers and are poor examples of what a responsible, decent citizen should be.
For decades, the public had no recourse but to swallow the brazen abuses of epals simply because no forum existed for them to voice out their discontent. Civil society’s silence was misconstrued as a stamp of approval, and so the epals went about their ways unabated.
But thanks to social media, regular folk now have a platform to express their disapproval. On Facebook and on Twitter, both with more than 30 million Filipino subscribers, the public’s resentment of epals is unraveling (and spreading) like wildfire.
A new Facebook group called “Anti-Epal” was created by Vincent Lazatin and Betty Romero last May. In just three months, the group generated more than 23,000 followers and is increasing by almost a thousand a day. It has spawned 102 similar groups (per my last count) in provinces like Laguna, Cavite, Pangasinan, Cebu, Romblon, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte, with new ones from various provinces joining the fold everyday. On Twitter, Noemi Lardizabal-Dado has initiated the hashtag #epalwatch, a public forum that encourages discussions on issues relating to unethical self-promotion. Since the discussion thread started, thousands have joined in on the discussion, with most expressing their long-repressed disgust.
The scale of public involvement is indicative of how the issue has festered in the minds and hearts of the Filipino. Scroll through the many anti-Epal pages on Facebook and you’ll get an idea of the scale of public involvement.
Two Sundays ago, social activist Carlos Celdran and Mae Paner (a.k.a. Juana Change), along with Lazatin and Romero, staged an Anti-Epal Protest in Quezon City, a place they christened “The Epal Capital of the World.” (The city was named after Manual L. Quezon, even while he was still alive! The tradition of epalism thrives in this poor city, with its mayors, congressmen and counselors, past and present, clogging its streets with brazen self-promotion).
The Celdran-Paner initiative aims to tell politicians that epalism is not acceptable and that civil society is taking a firm stand against it. That they, along with millions of other concerned citizens, will not hesitate to publicly shame abusive public officials if that’s what it takes to reclaim our cities back from them.
The initiative must have worked as witnesses saw a group, presumably from city hall, painting over floor tiles bearing the initials “HB” or Herbert Bautista. Others observed numerous epal banners brought down in the Kamuning area. Still, thousands of epal collaterals remain. We hear that Councilor Vincent Belmonte was given the mock-award of Epal King for the sheer number of barangay pylons bearing his name still standing belligerently. Councilors Winnie Castelo and Dante De Guzman were close runner-ups.
Lazatin, Dado, Celdran and Paner deserve our salute for taking responsibility and having the guts to demand for delicadeza in the political arena. We should all follow their lead.
Clearly, a wave of change has begun. For the many politicos that are too dense to care, let me spell it out again…The public rejects Epals and Epalism will not hesitate to publicly shame offenders until the legislature passes a law that bans it altogether.
Senate Bill 1967
Senator Miriam Santiago has sponsored a bill in the upper house entitled “An Act Prohibiting Public Officers from Claiming Credit through Signages Announcing a Public Works Project,” better known as the “Anti-Epal Bill.”
The bill stresses, among others, that “public office is public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility and integrity…” Hence, the bill seeks to prohibit politicians from plastering their names and faces on public works projects like roads and bridges, which were funded by the government. Further hearings in the Senate also extended the ban to apply to police cars, ambulances and fire trucks.
Senate Bill 1967 provides a jail term of between six months to one year for the offender. Senator Santiago justifies her bill by saying that grabbing undue credit for a project funded by government “fosters a culture of political patronage and corruption. It diminishes the importance that the public needs to place on supporting government officials, not because of their popularity, but because of their essential role in policy determination, whether on the local or national level. It also diminishes the concept of continuity in good governance in the mind of the public.”
The bill is moving along in the upper house with more refinements being imputed to it, not the least of which is providing protective measures for local law enforcers who may have to face the ire of kingpins in their district.
Unfortunately, the bill is not progressing in the lower house at all. No surprise. The lower house is the cradle of the biggest epals in the land, starting with the speaker himself.
We, the public, must compel Congress to act on the Anti-Epal Bill through the various social media channels available to us.
But until such time that the legislature provides us with a law that bans epalism, we must continue to expose and publicly shame epals because at the end of the day, what they are doing is downright immoral, unethical, indecent and not reflective of Filipino values.
Log on to www.facebook.com/nomoreepal and make your voices heard.
Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.
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