“Epal” means scene stealer or attention-grabber. In politics, it specifically refers to elected officials who use taxpayer-funded or government projects as props for their propaganda or promotional campaigns.
Davao del Sur Gov. Claude Bautista’s first official act when he assumed office on Monday was to ban the display of names or over-sized photos of politicians on government buildings and vehicles.
Bautista also ordered the removal of the names of politicians – past or present – that were emblazoned on government buildings and vehicles.
He also said the names or images of elected officials on billboards announcing government projects would now be a “no-no under my administration.”
“All government projects and vehicles should only bear the name of the town or village to which these were assigned. For example, if a gymnasium was built in Barangay Binaton (in this city), it should be named the Binaton Gym and nothing else,” he told reporters here.
Although he did not single out a politician, Bautista lamented the practice of some officials who made it appear that the people of Davao del Sur were indebted to them for the projects built when they held office.
When Douglas Cagas was still governor, government-funded buildings or vehicles were emblazoned with “Cagas Cares,” or were named “Cagas Gym,” “Cagas Health Center,” among others.
“Putting their names or their images on government-funded buildings or vehicles would make it appear they spent their personal money on them,” Bautista said.
“No politician should claim or make an impression that they own these projects because it was funded by people’s money, by individuals who are paying taxes,” he said.
Bautista said he has decided to take the path of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo — no-frills good governance based on “transparency and accountability.”
When he was interior secretary, Robredo issued Memorandum Circular 2012-44, which banned the display of pictures and names of government officials on posters and streamers announcing the government’s anti-poverty program.
Copies of the circular were also furnished to all provincial governors, city and town mayors.
Robredo’s circular enforced what is still being envisioned by the anti-Epal campaign of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who filed Senate Bill 1340 or “An Act Prohibiting Public Officers from Claiming Credit through Signage Announcing a Public Works Project.”
Santiago described the practice by most politicians as the promotion of the “culture of political patronage and corruption, aside from it being pointless and highly unethical.”
Bautista, meanwhile, said he would not announce what projects were his priorities.
“That was only for politicians who would do nothing during their terms,” he said.
But he added that if there was enough funds, he would put up projects that could provide livelihood to those who needed them most.
In Kidapawan City, re-elected North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said she would like to reconcile with her political adversaries to move the province forward.
“Politics is just a part of the true mandate to serve the people. Therefore, forgiveness and reconciliation among opposing politicians must now take place,” Mendoza said in her brief message when she reported back to office on Monday.
She also encouraged the people to participate in efforts to ensure good governance by monitoring the work of their leaders.
“This will pose a challenge to elected officials to rightly or truthfully inform the people in the spirit of transparency,” Mendoza said.