No law punishing 'epal' politicians, Comelec says

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Sep 04 2012 09:51 PM | Updated as of Sep 05 2012 05:51 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Congress has yet to pass a law that would punish politicians who advertise themselves on billboards and tarpaulins, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said Tuesday.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, in an interview with Lynda Jumilla on "ANC Presents: Road To 2013," said the existing laws on pre-election campaigning should be revised to address "epal" politicians.

"No one's violated any law except the law of taste. It's technically not illegal," he said.

"'Epal' could be unethical, but Comelec has no ethical superiority over (guilty officials)," he added. "Unless Congress enacts something that makes 'epal' illegal."

He said politicians advertise themselves to make their names synonymous with public service.

"Ubiquity works. When you see (an official's name in food packets), subliminally, provider siya," he said.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed a bill aimed at shaming politicians who claim credit for projects built with public funds.

She has expressed confidence that it will be approved by both houses of Congress.

Premature campaigning law amendment

Jimenez, meanwhile, described premature campaigning cases as "unwieldy."

"By the time it reaches court, tapos na election. Amend the law, streamline the process," he explained.

He, however, said civil society groups' ongoing shame campaign in social media again "epal" politicians can help in filing cases.

"Para huwag lang tayo sigaw nang sigaw dahil mamamaos lang tayo," the Comelec spokesman said.

Election lawyer Lui Guia agreed with Jimenez, saying the current the law on premature campaigning should be reviewed.

'Law allows palusot'

"Our laws are designed by politicians para di sila mahuli. This is something we should look at," he said.

"It's basically palusot. Everyone knows bawal mangampanya outside the campaign period pero nagpapalusot," he added.

Guia, official of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), said "epal" has been the norm for many politicans.

"'Epal' has been going on since time immemorial pero hinahayaan siya. It has become the usual," he said.

Guia said the large billboards and tarpaulins promoting politicians should be questioned.

"Kung incumbent ka, are you using government money? If you're a private citizen, why invest so much in advertising yourself?" he asked.

He said the public should be vigilant against the practice.

"If no one complains, you can't expect Comelec to go after 'epal' officials because they have to prepare first for the elections," he said.

'Anti-epal' campaign

Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) official Vincent Lazatin said they have launched the campaign against "epal" to inform the public for them to help stop the act.

"'Epal' has been going on for so long people don't notice it anymore," he said.

"The 'anti-epal' campaign aims to desensitize people. We shouldn't tolerate it anymore. We should pressure politicians to stop doing it," he added.

Lazatin said the definition of what constitutes "epal" has been evolving, even in discussions on Facebook.

"Self-advertisement of any form is pre-campaigning. It distorts the playing field," he said. "(Taking) credit for a government-funded project should have no place here. Ordinary citizens don't put up tarps on the work they do."

Sympathy from Robredo's death

Lazatin said some politicians even used the death of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to promote themselves.

"Even after Robredo's death, officials put up tarpaulins with their name displayed to ride on public sympathy. It's a vile way of doing it," he said.

He said their campaign's Facebook page "has tapped into the unspoken frustration of many people."

"People are venting on the page," he said.

University of Sto. Tomas Professor Edmund Tayao said President Benigno Aquino, who has barred the use of his image and name in government projects, is the best person to serve as an example in the campaign against "epal" politician.

Tayao believes that with Aquino's significant political capital, the president is the best messenger to curb the practice.

The problem, however, is still the law or the lack of it.

"Enforcement ang problema against epal. Kung ikaw yung opisyal, walang incentive for you to act on it because you'll do the same," Tayao said.