The impropriety of a public official plastering his or her name all over a public-funded facility or piece of equipment had recently come to light. Apparently people now feel a sense of outrage at the sight of the names and images of local politicians adorning projects and initiatives made possible by taxpayers’ funds.
Don’t get me wrong. I think EpalWatch.com is a worthwhile albeit long-overdue initiative. It is gratifying to see something I had long been annoyed about now being brought to the fore. The mission of EpalWatch.com is summarised in its About section, thus…
â€œEpalâ€ is slang for â€œmapapel,â€ a Filipino term for attention grabbers or people who crave a role (papel) in affairs that are not necessarily theirs to handle or decide. The word “epal” became a buzzword when President Benigno Aquino III initiated a shame campaign against such annoying public officials. It is a common practice among public officers, whether elected or appointed, to append their names to public works projects which were either funded or facilitated through their office. This gallery shows these “mapapel” officials and/or tarpaulins or campaign paraphernalia even before the official campaign period.
Just a slight annoyance I need to express about the above synopsis: I don’t know if President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III’s name really deserves the position of prominence it holds in the above blurb. But then there it is. There’s irony in that little unfortunate circumstance which I think needs to be cited lest it continues to fly over the heads of some folk.
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[Photo courtesy EpalWatch.com.]
Anyways, even as a ten-year-old growing up in the 70s, I already thought there was something quite off about the omnipresence of prominent reminders of this-and-that “project” being “made possible” by so-and-so official. But then as these were supposedly “small” matters at the time, one being annoyed about things like that often earned one the label of “pedantic weirdo”. The squatter situation comes to mind. That they are now referred to by the more politically-correct term “informal settlers” is a case in point. But I digress.
So I find Jane Uymatiao’s (a.k.a. @PhilippineBeat on Twitter) question “How have we become a country of… political tarps/posters etc? (T)hey are eyesores,” a bit amusing. How exactly? The answer to Ms Uymatiao’s question came in the form of a subsequent tweet from Net activist Noemi Dado (a.k.a. @momblogger on Twitter).
before 70’s banners were definitely smaller RT @benign0: @philippinebeat Even in 70s, pols’ names appeared on pedestrian ..@jesterinexile
Well, see, it starts with small things. A country where nobody really gives a hoot about motorists not stopping before a zebra-striped road crossing to give pedestrians the right-of-way, in my opinion, forfeits its right to be too aghast about the horrendous traffic situation that imprisons its capital metropolis today. But the thing with small things is that they are of no consequence in a burara society like the Philippines. Hey, there’s another irony there, considering that the Philippines is a country defined by what national treasure Nick Joaquin called A Heritage of Smallness. At first it sounds like an intellectual conundrum. How does a society renowned for its heritage of smallness consistently fail to arrest the growth of its national cancers while they are still small seeds?
Resolving that conundrum is quite easy. The effect of small things can only be appreciated when one has a firm grasp of the big picture. Back when jeepneys were seen as more of a solution than the tumor they actually were that would go on to grow into the enormously untenable cancer they had become today, very few people will have appreciated anyone who pointed out the folly in these contraptions being regarded as enduringly “ingenious”.
Those disgraceful epal posters and tarpaulins, those horrid jeepneys and buses, these barnacle-like squatters — we see them and ask ourselves: How did these become the monstrous social problems that they are today?
Look no further than the average middle-aged bloke sporting a comb-over. People who go to church regularly are in the enviable position of being the most likely to spot one of these human phenomena regularly. There’s always one ahead (pardon the pun) on one of the pews in front of us. In one of my classics, I used the comb-over as a metaphor to describe how small things become big things right under our noses — i.e., the Pinoy Condition demystified. Indeed, comb-overs don’t just happen…
I believe that comb-over regimes happen progressively. They start as a small bald patch that can be hidden with a very minor change in the way we comb our hair. In my case, for example, a scar just above my hairline at the left side of my face predisposes me to grow a bit of an extra fringe there (and comb it down a bit) to even things out â€” achieve that symmetry that is so prized in the animal kingdom, so to speak.
For those of us who are unfortunate enough to possess the male pattern baldness gene, the baldness can advance in a slow enough pace as to elude awareness of the small incremental changes in the way we comb and have our hair trimmed as the shinier spots on our head advance in scope. The majority probably get it at some point and make a decisive correction in their grooming patterns.
Unfortunately, some donâ€™t â€” at least not until they are way past the point-of-no-return in their emotional and social investment in their chosen hair grooming regime.
How did we become a nation of political tarps and posters? The answers to that will likely be the same ones that will answer similar questions to do with the country’s monumental squatter infestation and its being held hostage by smoke-belching diesel jeepneys. It comes down to the way our heritage of smallness predisposes us to tolerate the small problems in our midst.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.