Disallowed by the state: Gov’t projects ‘credited’ to candidates

By Jeffrey George Udarbe, Chelin Emmanuelle Hernandez and Jeremaiah Opiniano

   The Filipino Connection   


QUEZON CITY and MANILA–This is the season for electioneering. The pre-election period campaign bans are over, so it’s a political kaleidoscope –all tarped, posterized, sung as jingles– across Philippine communities.

But some things else were banned.

Government programs such as the Pantawid Pamilya program have been temporarily suspended to avoid being used by politicians for politicking and credit-grabbing given the ongoing campaign for national and local elective positions (Photo from the Department of Social Welfare and Development)

Government programs such as the Pantawid Pamilya program have been temporarily suspended to avoid being used by politicians for politicking and credit-grabbing given the ongoing campaign for national and local elective positions (Photo from the Department of Social Welfare and Development)

Politicians have banned the use of government programs, including those run locally, as electoral showcases by candidates. In local Filipino political parlance, epal  (from the root Tagalog word papel —as a verb, mapapel— to imply that somebody grabs the credit for personal gain) cannnot be done anymore with government programs.

Just recently, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) suspended for two months the implementation of the Pantawid Pamilya program as part of its “Bawal Ang Epal” (Credit-grabbing politicians are disallowed) campaign. Pantawid is the government’s conditional cash transfer program to benefit the country’s poorest households, who will get some cash assistance in exchange for, say, visiting the health center by the mother of the household.

DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said the department’s campaign aims to raise the Filipinos’ political awareness amid reports that some government officials are threatening Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries to be delisted from the program if these beneficiaries do not support them in the elections.

Soliman said the campaign has already generated positive results in some areas where politicians have already began removing their faces on posters promoting the 4Ps program.

“Malaki ang naging epekto sa ating mga pulitiko sapagkat ngayon mapag-bantay ang mamamayan (This anti-epal campaign affected politicians, especially since citizens are now watching over them),” the DSWD chief told The Filipino Connection in an exclusive interview.

Even before the start of the local elections campaign last March 30, DSWD was already monitoring candidates who were reportedly using its programs to boost their campaign. One of which was Team PNoy senatorial bet Loren Legarda who, since October 2012, had broadcast commercials on the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), the DSWD’s means to precisely identify the country’s poorest households.

Though Legarda had already pulled out those commercials, those advertisements said that this advisory was in coordination with DSWD, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), and the office of Sen. Legarda.

Over at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the agency’s media chief Nicon Fameronag warned politicians not use to use job fairs for politicking, especially since Labor Day is coming up.

Fameronag told The Filipino Connection politicians must spare from using government projects and services, like job fairs organized by DOLE and the various public employment service offices (PESOs) for their campaign.

Though, DOLE or its attached agency the Bureau of Local Employment (BLE) has yet to receive cases of politicking. But if ever these candidates try to use any of DOLE projects like job fairs to put up their paraphernalia, then the agency will “immediately take action to stop them,” Fameronag said.

Fameronag says though, “We won’t be halting any projects. DOLE’s operations will continue in mid of the election season.”

Unlike DSWD that temporarily suspended the Pantawid Pamilya program for two months, DOLE won’t halt any of its existing services that may be used for electioneering, Famoeronag said.

The latest moves by DSWD and DOLE had been preceeded earlier by the policy pro-nouncements of agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Commission on Audit.

DPWH’s anti-epal measure is the removal of illegally-placed election paraphernalia to the agency’s field offices nationwide. This is a result of Resolution 9598 of the Com-mission on Elections (Comelec), ordering the DPWH to remove electoral propaganda materials on bridge approaches, road and bridge railings, road signages, and other similar public infrastructure. Government-funded infrastructure and utilities, says Secretary Rogelio Singson, will be protected from being used as “accessory resources of any candidate”.

However, there is no mention from the DPWH’s end that the construction and repair of roads and other public infrastructure –funded by taxpayers’ money– cannot be used anymore by local politicians for election-eering. What is common in the Philippines is the series of road constructions said to be timed at the campaign period.

Last January 30, the Commission on Audit’s Circular no. 2013-004 mandated that “the display and/or affixture of the picture, image, motto, logo, color motif, initials, or other symbol or graphic representation associated with the top leader of (a government program’s) project proponent or an implementing agency/unit/office on signboards is con-sidered unnecessary.”

This also applies to the such physical displays that are associated with congress-people, executive officials or local officials. Examples include having the initials of a local official in the signs of school buildings, like what currently prevails in Batangas province (south of Manila).

The circular also provides: “No election-related expense or propaganda… shall be charged against public funds.”

If officials use such projects for electioneering, the COA will disallow these expense items, the circular wrote.

As early as his acceptance speech on June 30, 2010, President Beningo Simeon Aquino III ordered that his name and face not be flashed in tarpaulins and signboards announcing a government-funded project.

In various media platforms, however, some Filipinos cast doubts on anti-epal measures by government agencies. Some are skeptical if government agencies will truly enforce these anti-epal laws.#