No place for ‘epal’ in government
ILOILO CITY — To be “epal” is to put one’s own publicity above people’s interests; to take personal credit for government projects; and to prioritize one’s political ambitions over public service. Unable to win popular support based on their past accomplishments, present performance or future plans, many politicians resort to epal tactics as a shortcut to get (re)elected.
Consider the case of Bong Go, whose posters are plastered all over the country. Following President Duterte’s playbook of feigned reluctance, the “Special Assistant to the President” claims he is not running for senator, but it is obvious that he is. His credentials to be a legislator? None. His present performance? Nothing to be proud of. His vision for the nation? Nonexistent. The only way for him to win? Rub his face into the people’s consciousness.
Perhaps if someone used his own funds to advertise himself for nonpolitical motives, then the public will have less reason to be critical; in this, I am reminded of Xian Gaza, who last year put up a billboard asking Erich Gonzales for a coffee date.
But what’s reprehensible with our politicians is that they’re using government resources — money, time and symbolic capital — to promote themselves. Setting aside the question of who’s financing all those posters (incredulously, politicians would routinely claim they don’t actually know), there are clear instances of impropriety: When Go showed up at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) last week, the hospital was suddenly adorned with his posters, and there were “Malasakit cards” bearing his image, alongside the President’s.
There are many other examples, across all administrations, some so absurd that not even Lourd de Veyra can make them up—from medals with mayors’ faces right in the middle, to a casket in Capas, Tarlac, bearing Mayor TJ Rodriguez Jr.’s name. While there may be legitimate reasons for government officials to promote their own initiatives (e.g., Juan Flavier and his health campaigns), Bato dela Rosa’s mascot is a clear publicity stunt, especially in light of his looming senatorial bid.
Though her mandate as governor is to take charge of Ilocos Norte, Imee Marcos has traveled extensively around the country—another example of being epal. I hope UP president Danilo Concepcion, who graced a reunion of the Imee Marcos-led Kabataang Barangay inside UP Diliman, will learn from the Iloilo youth activists who successfully prevented the senatorial aspirant from holding an event in their campus.
Many of the above acts may not be illegal, but mere legality has never been the bar for good governance. Is it really proper for governors to spend so much time going around the country, far from their constituents? Or for a presidential assistant to have his face in cell phone packs and coffee sachets? There’s also the matter of dignity: Frankly, Bong Go’s selfies make government officials look like a bunch of amateurs.
On a positive note, the pushback against epal has been modestly successful; years after the Anti-Epal Movement of 2012, I see fewer ambulances bearing mayors’ faces. Go’s risible posters in PGH were removed posthaste, and a branch of Anytime Fitness on Ortigas Avenue was forced to apologize after they announced (inexplicably for a business) that they were supporting Go. The pushback against epal is such that there are actually anti-epal bills pending in Congress (e.g., Senate Bill No. 1535 and House Bill No. 3952), while Facebook pages like “Anti-Epal” keep the campaign alive.
Also, to the credit of the electorate, not all epal politicians succeed. For instance, in 2016, Jejomar Binay’s epal moves—putting his name and vice presidential seal on relief goods, for instance—only jeopardized his presidential campaign. In a country where people are fed up with self-promotion, epal moves can actually be a liability.
But maybe the age of enlightenment is yet to come. Which is why we need to stay vigilant, not just by opposing epal politicians, but by supporting those who have more than their faces and posters to show. In 2019 and in future elections, Filipino voters must send a strong message: There is no place for epal like Bong Go in government.
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