It is no secret that citizens have long loathed the habit by public servants of creatively disguising attributions to their selves in the form of tarpaulins, posters and anything else you can think of. But nothing really took off. Not until Sen. Miriam Santiago’s Anti Epal Bill (HB 1967), an act prohibiting public officials from claiming credit through signage announcing a public works project.
The Anti Epal Bill brought to light the way public officials continue to campaign and promote themselves even after they are elected into office to prosper their political careers – all in the guise of public works and other ways. The creativity does not stop there. How many times have we seen other kinds of promotional materials in Styrofoam containers, food wrappers, plastic cups, pencils, and yes, lately we discovered that even preschool certificates of completion can have a public official’s picture on it. I’m wondering if the bill has been forgotten.
The Principle behind the Anti-Epal Moves
There are two sections in the Constitution that make reference to how a public official should act.
- Article II, Section 27 under State Policies states: “The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption”
- Article XI, Section 1 under Accountability of Public Officers states: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
When a public official is elected into office, he or she is there to serve. But what have we been seeing?
We see obvious uses of public funds to serve an official’s personal interest. A poster for public service has the official’s picture occupying a good one-third of the entire poster area. Sometimes the public service message is overpowered by the colorful photo of the official. Park or street décor are constantly being changed with every change in local official using creative depictions of the official’s initials.
Is that true public service?
Public works as well as the budgets allocated to local government units (LGUs) and to the legislative branch are funded by taxpayer money. Why not put “Your taxes are working for you”, for example, instead of the politician’s face on a project poster?
Signs of Early Political Campaigning
There is a growing awareness also of what seems like early political campaigning for the 2013 elections.
Watch TV. You’ll see political figures espousing different advocacies. Check social media. See how many new accounts are being set up by public servants. To be fair, no one is saying “Vote for me” so technically they are not violating anything. But creating an awareness campaign for a future political plan in the guise of an advocacy?
Article X, Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code states: “Election campaign or partisan political activity outside campaign period. – It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period…”
When people see these moves as a subtle way of campaigning very early on for the 2013 elections — way before the filing of their candidacy; way before Comelec’s mandated campaign period – then loopholes in the system are being used.
Epal Watch is born
One night early this June, I was busy checking Twitter when suddenly, tweets about epal and early campaigning began appearing on my timeline. Lightbulb moment! We can help citizens have a voice online! I quickly sent off a direct message (DM) to Noemi, Blog Watch’s editor, to ask how she felt about an Epal Watch. It did not take long for a decision to be made. That same night, #epalwatch was born.
Where can Epal Watch be found?
Epal Watch can be found in two places:
- On Twitter, using the hashtag #epalwatch
- On our website – epalwatch.com
Who can contribute to Epal Watch? And how?
Anyone with a smartphone, digicam, or videocam can. All you have to do is tweet a picture or video of the epal item and tag us using #epalwatch. Also tag either @momblogger or myself, @philippinebeat. You can also send the file with the same details to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Anything that appears to be spent with public funds and should not have the politician’s name on it is a candidate for #epalwatch.
You must be the owner of the photo or have permission from the owner to submit the photo. Attribution will be given to real owner if the photo is not yours.
Together with the photo, give the date when photo was taken as well as the location. Where possible, also state name of politician/local leader concerned.
We in Blog Watch believe that you are a citizen empowered by technology and social media. All you need is a quick eye and your own mobile phone or digicam. Keep an eye out for any sign of epal-ness and bring it to the netizens’ attention.
Public service involves public accountability. As taxpaying citizens it is now time for us to hold our public servants accountable.
Make your mobile phones and digicams work for the good of the nation. We’ll be waiting for your photo submissions.
Superhero taken by @kingdelrosario on May 2012 at the height of The Avengers popularity. Some rights reserved.
Tarpaulin of Joy Belmonte taken by @carloople a few months before official campaign period. Some rights reserved.