Why EpalWatch is both good for the country and clear evidence of its profound dysfunction

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…

“Epal” is slang for “mapapel,” 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 — 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 don’t — 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.

10 Replies to “Why EpalWatch is both good for the country and clear evidence of its profound dysfunction”

  1. On one hand, it seems like the footprint of warlordism… the warlords plaster their names all over.

    Next, this may also reflect Filipino small-mindedness. This epalism is all about people… so use the Eleanor Roosevelt quote in this:
    Great minds discuss ideas;
    Average minds discuss events;
    Small minds discuss people.

  2. The Epal banners are just symptomatic of this shitty culture. There is no sense of the rule of law or that government represents the people in a collective sense. Rather it is medieval feudalism writ large and the banners remind the peasants who their lords really are.

    I’m surprised some of the more corrupt bishops aren’t in on the whole scam. Then again, they’re probably too busy driving around in their PCSO-provided SUVs….

    As for comb-overs, I went bald with pride. I never hid it. There’s is something inherently fake about trying to disguise baldness. It’s not like it’s ever going away!

  3. 1. Noynoy is one to talk about having one’s name all over the place. He sure as hell benefited from having his name on places you normally would not expect. Even on Holy Week.

    2. I said it before and I will say it again. KSP is the root of all evil. People who want attention despite not being worthy of anything.

    3. People can’t read anything semi educational or informative but they can read the politicians’ names. Nice allocation of limited brain power .

    4. As long as moronic TV is an indicator of the vast moronic audience it attracts, moronic people will win elections with moronic methods.

    5. Noynoy and Erap came in #1 & #2 in 2010. Enough said.

    6. Weep for this country.

    1. Noynoy’s name and face were all over motorist assistance tarps going to Baguio in the days prior to Holy Week.

  4. It’s political advertisement, at taxpayers’ expenses…I see it as, deceiving the taxpayers. It looks like these politicians, have given us the favor of doing and completing these projects. And we must, in return, elect them again…the posters are paid by us. They call it in the U.S. gutter language: “Screwing the Taxpayers, with their own money…” Or in Tagalog term : “Ginisa tayo sa sariling mantika…” How good can these political bastards get…

  5. We need to be careful not to blame Filipino nature for that which is properly blamed on human nature. “Epal” is just a Filipino word for a very human phenomenon. Politicians — human beings — have been taking credit for other people’s work going back until….well….probably the very beginning. In 2000-year-old Roman Pompeii, they uncovered a cold-water bath in the Roman bath with inscribed on the side in brass and Latin, “provided by city councillor….”. Politicians promoting themselves is not unique. What is unique is how limited such self-promotion is in some places. The question is not why one places is so bad but why another is better than normal. Normal is self-promoting politicians. Normal is the Philippines. Abnormal is a place where politicians do not use public resources to self-promote.

  6. Oh, and the Philippines has one of the best public transport systems in the world. Certainly much better than the U.S. With jeepneys, tricycles, sikad and the rest, one can get anywhere conveniently and relatively cheaply. Here in Iloilo I just need to step out of my house and a jeep will come by within 15 to 30 seconds to whisk me away to the city proper, or in the other direction if I so desire. Yes, some of them drive like maniacs, but they are not as bad as the private cars, especially the big SUVs that the VSIPs (Very SELF-Important Person) drive. And yes, traffic is getting worse, but that is the fault of growing number of private cars due to the Phiilppines’ increasing wealth.

    Manila might be a different story, but since that is only 10% of the country, it is luckily not really that relevant to whether Filipino jeepneys are a net good.

  7. There is also something wrong with a society where politicians are so corrupt and incompetent that when they actually do their jobs they expect their names to go up in lights, as it were.

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