A number of netizens have asked me what I think of the “epal” phenomenon and whether as a mainstreaming politician, I am guilty of the practice.
Such questions are valid especially considering that I am the author of the House version of the anti-epal bill.
In my bill, I am proposing to prohibit the naming of streets, classrooms, gymnasiums, parks, other public places, and government projects or programs after an incumbent government official or their relatives. This is essentially part of our efforts to prevent political dynasties from using government funds and resources to perpetuate themselves in power. As expected, the bill has not been approved by the House.
Meanwhile the Senate version, authored by Sen. Miriam Santiago, proposes to ban the putting up of signage of politicians claiming credit for government-funded projects and programs. I think it hasn’t progressed as well in the Senate.
Of late, mainly due to the election season, the term “epal” has taken on a broader, wider application. It seems that any public announcement made by a politician, be it a fiesta greeting, a product endorsement, a welcome banner, or any streamer bearing the name and face of a politician has been labelled “epal.” Such a loose definition expands the original scope of my and Sen. Santiago’s bills and tends to water down the political context of our proposed measures.
Just to be sure, there is nothing inherently wrong in putting up a tarp with one’s name and face plastered on it for all the world to see. Or placing a radio or TV ad about oneself. Most often, it all boils down to a matter of propriety and taste, kapal ng mukha, or tapang ng apog, as the case may be. You can’t charge a person for possessing an ugly face just as you can’t charge him for his garish tarp.
Politicians, of course, will do everything to have their name and face shown all over the place. Its a function of our electoral system where name and face recall is often more important than one’s platform and track record. There should be a limit though, and I think its: 1) when public funds are involved; 2) when there is misrepresentation in, for example, claiming credit for publicly-funded projects; and 3) when such materials violate election rules, anti-pornography laws or other laws and standards of decency.
Such limits should apply to product endorsements as well. In my case, I have publicly endorsed certain products and services as part of my Buy Pinoy, Build Pinoy advocacy especially for the micro, small and medium enterprises. No public funds are used and there is no misrepresentation involved. Such endorsements are not violative of election or other laws.
As to putting up tarpaulins during festivals, project inaugurations or similar occasions, again there is nothing illegal about it. Its really a matter of taste. My basic rule is that in occasions where I am present, appropriate welcome streamers and greetings are fine because its also good to let others know that I am in solidarity with them on such occassions. However, we should always be conscious of the wishes of the event organizers, like in the case of the feast of the black Nazarene last month, where I asked my supporters to take down tarps they had put up.
As a last point, unless we come to a clear definition as to what really constitutes “epal,” just as I have tried to do in my bill and Sen. Santiago in hers, then everything becomes relative and one person’s epal can be another one’s testament to glory.#