By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – Stop using public funds for self-serving promotional gimmicks.
This was the call made by the two Bayan Muna Representatives Teddy Casiño today and Neri Colmenares as they pushed for an “anti-epal” bill in the House of Representatives. “Epal” is slang for “kapal,” a pejorative term for someone who is metaphorically thick-skinned and has no compunction against shameless self-promotion.
The two lawmakers are directing their legislative proposal to politicians in all levels of the bureaucracy who make it a habit to have their faces and names emblazoned on every possible surface in public areas. Its formal title is “Prohibiting the naming of public properties and government services after incumbent elected public officials, their kin, spouses and relatives of up to fourth civil degree of consanguinity and providing penalties thereof and for other purposes,” was filed 15 months ago and it has been left untouched by the committee on revision of laws.
Bayan Muna’s version HB 2309 already has a counterpart in the Senate filed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago formally titled “An Act Prohibiting Public Officers from Claiming Credit through Signage Announcing a Public Works Project.”
While the two lawmakers have expressed gladness that the measure has gained some headway in the Senate, they said that a more substantive bill that goes beyond faces on tarpaulins and signs is needed to stop the practice of public officials using government projects and programs to promote themselves and their political dynasties.
“More than credit grabbing signs, the more insidious way to instill political patronage and promote a politician’s dynasty is to name government projects and programs after oneself. An example would be politicians naming public parks or buildings after themselves, or government programs like the former Macapagal- Arroyo administration’s Ginintuang Masagana Ani or GMA farm inputs program,” said Casiño.
In cities and even in far-flung villages in the provinces, it’s not unusual to see posters and streamers printed with the names and faces of politicians. Whether they are announcing the holding of a free medical mission (which is not actually free as the medicines are most likely paid for by the taxpayers-target beneficiaries themselves) or groundbreaking for new public infrastructure (a school building or road widening), traditional politicians make sure that their names can be read in big, bold and eye-catching letters and lay-out. The “anti-epal” bill wants to put an end to this self-promotional tactic of politicians once and for all.
Casiño first filed the “anti-epal” bill during the 13th Congress and has been refiling it ever since. He said unlike putting up temporary tarpaulins or signs, the naming of public places after oneself or one’s relative is permanent and institutionalizes political patronage, making it a common practice among old and new political dynasties. He said such a measure, more than merely banning credit-grabbing signs, was needed to curb political dynasties in the country.
A recent study conducted by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) revealed that 68 percent of the members of the 15th Congress had kinship links to legislators in the 12th, 13th and 14th Congress or local government officials elected in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010. This indicates a high incidence of dynastic relationship compared to parliaments in the United States (six percent), Argentina (10 percent), Japan (33 percent) and Mexico (40 percent).
“With this ‘anti-epal’ bill, we hope that we can help democratize political power instead of keeping it concentrated in the hands of a few,” he said. “We hope our colleagues in the House can see the importance and urgency of this measure,” he said.
A blow against political dynasties
Besides opposing politicians’ penchant for shameless self-promotion using public funds, Bayan Muna’s measure is also an attack against political dynasties. The measure cites Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution that states that the government has the responsibility to guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasties.
” To attain this goal of democratizing political power, the state should lessen the ability of incumbent officials to use government resources to entrench themselves and their families in power. A law defining and banning political dynasties is paramount towards this end,” it stated.
According to Colmenares, experience has proven that such a law is virtually impossible to pass in a congress dominated by political clans and dynasties.
“We’re offering a compromise measure to simply ban the naming of public properties, public services and government programs after incumbent public officials and their immediate relatives. This would, at least, put a stop to one of the most despised practices of political dynasties,” he said.
Colmenares said it was beyond argument that it is immoral and unethical for any incumbent official to name government properties, services or programs after himself /herself or his/her immediate relatives because these are financed by taxpayers’ money.
“Such an act indicates that the public official is soliciting fame and glory in order to perpetuate oneself or one’s family in power at the expense of government resources,” he said.
Penalize and disqualify ‘anti-epal’ law breakers
The “anti-epal” bill is simple and straightforward in its objectives.
Section four of the “anti-epal” bill goes to the heart of the matter as it lays down a stern prohibition against the naming of public property and government services.
” No public property and government service situated or being implemented within a public official’s jurisdiction can be named after the latter for the duration of his / her term, nor can it be named after the said public official’s relatives of up to fourth civil degree of consanguinity. Likewise, no public property situated within a public official’s jurisdiction, can be named after the latter’s spouse nor the latter’s spouse’s relatives of up to second civil degree of consanguinity,” it states.
The legislative proposal also makes certain to include prohibiting the use of acronyms and initials. It makes note of the tactic employed by shrewd traditional politicians to print, paint or name public property or government services in such a way that the letters when italicized or capitalized make the letters stand out and correspond to the public official’s name.
There is also an absolute prohibition against any person whether natural or juridical to initiate, cause, and approve the naming of any public property or government program after public officials or their relatives within the prohibited civil degree of relationship.
Apart from fining those found guilty of violating the provisions of the “anti-epal” bill when passed into law with fines ranging from P50,000 to P70,000 ($1,100 to $1,600), elected officials will be held in temporary perpetual disqualification from holding any public office from three to six years. Repeat offenders, in the meantime, stand to be fined P100,000 to P300,000 ($2,300 to $6,900) and absolute perpetual disqualification from holding any office in the discretion of the courts. The Commission on Elections is tasked to verify the petition of any Filipino citizen of voting age seeking to deny a certificate of candidacy for any person penalized by disqualification by the “anti-epal” law.