Categorized | Politics

On Epalwatch (And Why It’s A No-Win Situation Sometimes)

Epal: 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.Epalwatch

Case in point:

Epal - Epalwatch - Jobo Rice

I spy yet another Magsaysay… sigh.

Instances like this are pretty clear-cut. In the midst of relief operations, their face is plastered all over the truck, as if to announce “Hey, you undeserving peon! Gaze upon your salvation that is I, Jobo Jobo. For I am Jobo Jobo! People call me Jobo Jobo! Gaze, I say. Gaaaaazzzzeee!” Then there are cases where people get even more blatant, like this:

Epal - Epalwatch - Sardines

Oh, screw you.

The definition from Epalwatch was very clear. It’s all about people who put their name and face to projects, goods, and services to claim credit, with the obvious intention of leveraging themselves for the next elections. Well before campaign period, you’d see faces on sardines, stickers, tarps, everything short of a big, honking billboard, in an attempt to grab your attention — and votes.

Billboard Epal

Whoops.

Epalwatch is a worthy cause. It keeps public servants on their toes and keeps them from willfully using their position of power to spend public funds in an effort to advertise themselves for re-election well before they even file their candidacy. It helps other politicians from making a name for themselves at the expense of genuine public service.  I am also a writer for Blogwatch (the group behind Epalwatch), and I agree with the objectives of Epalwatch in principle.

However, in an attempt to stamp out this epal-ing phenomenon, overzealous advocates of the Epalwatch movement seem to have resorted to calling out anyone who is seen doing any kind of public service. This may do more harm than good, because even sincerely well-meaning politicians would fear having their name besmirched just because they want to help.

And yes, that includes the president: the very guy people frequently castigate for being lazy and doing nothing. Now, we’re criticizing him for doing something.

The man assured us of devastation. Looks like he finally got something right.

The man assured us of devastation. Looks like he finally got something right.

PNoy can’t win. Not that I even like the guy, really. I don’t. But a mere four days before the unexpected monsoon flooding, a columnist was asking where Noynoy was. When PNoy declared that he likes keeping a low profile during tragedies so that he doesn’t look like he’s milking tragedy for political glad-handing, he was criticized for it relentlessly.

Booooo! Do something!

Booooo! Do something!

Yet, now that he makes an effort to actually go out there and do something, he catches flak for it, too. What do we really want?

Booooo! Stop doing something!

Booooo! Stop doing something!

Meanwhile, Dick Gordon, a man who, in 2009, allegedly delayed distribution of relief goods during Ondoy so he could deliver a speech, got nearly universal praise for his efforts this time. The difference: as far as we know, he is not running for anything this time.

Dick Gordon typhoon relief

He also gets badass points for that ride.

There is no question Dick Gordon was doing an excellent job with rescue operations, and we know him to be the kind who is all business. He has very little room for glad-handing or waving around to people, even when he was running. But that’s Dick Gordon. Not everyone else can be as to-the-point as he is and get away with it. I would give nearly everything just to have Dick Gordon as a Comelec Commissioner. Any excuse to call him “Commissioner Gordon” would be awesome.

In contrast, PNoy and the other people who went with him were slammed non-stop for doing essentially the same thing Gordon was doing: helping out. Unlike Lanete Sardines or Jobo Rice, there were no stickers or paraphernalia in the goods PNoy and company distributed. Furthermore, surely you can’t expect them to go out there and wear luchador masks to remain anonymous, or be surly as they go about their business, nor can you expect people to not take pictures of them as they go about their business. And even if they did, you can bet they’d have been criticized for it, too.

Because these people are who they are, they simply can’t help anonymously, unless they are not physically there to help. By now, we know that isn’t enough, since that was exactly how PNoy claims to have been conducting himself earlier on. In fact, with all the emphasis on PNoy’s supposed photo-mongering, why did nobody take notice of this picture?

Mar Roxas, photobombing only like Mar Roxas can.

Mar Roxas, photobombing only like Mar Roxas can.

That sure doesn’t look like grandstanding to me at all, and has got to be one of the most un-glamorous shots of the president I’ve ever seen. Despite that, people ignored this photo in favor of others that gave them the opportunity to weave a more lurid narrative about our president. While that may be their right, they should at least ask themselves, is this fair?

There are so many valid things to criticize PNoy about. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged my fair share of criticism against him, too. However, his actions during this flood would not be one of those things.

Let’s go back to Epalwatch’s own definition of what it means to be an “epal.” When did PNoy or any of his group “append their names to public works projects which were either funded or facilitated through their office?” The definition did not cover the actions of PNoy and company! Was there a single sardine can there with Risa Hontiveros’s mug plastered on it? Were they distributing “Ruffy Rice” while Ruffy Biazon was reminding people to not forget him in 2013? Or was it simply a case of overzealous people trying to find political drama in the middle of tragedy, instead of simply accepting the service rendered by PNoy and company at face value for now?

Really now. What was the alternative for these people? What could they have possibly done that would have resulted in people saying that they were really just trying to help? We all know that if Dick Gordon mentioned something about running for public office again, there would have been a bunch of people attacking him for helping out, too. Do we seriously want to put political service in such a quandary?

Maybe they really were angling themselves politically. I don’t know; I’m just a mentalist, not a psychic. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they were helping people, and only in stretching Epalwatch’s own definition beyond what it actually states can tongues even begin wagging, which implies one of two things:

  1. Either Epalwatch made a mistake in defining what it means to be “epal,” or
  2. The response to PNoy and company was simply a cynical, knee-jerk reaction to politicians in general, no matter what they do.

Or both. Probably both. It seems that as netizens, we shoot first, ask questions later. Cops get the same kind of bad press, and yet here they are, still reminding us why a lot of them still have jobs.

Cops are generally nicer to pedestrians than motorists, though.

Cops are generally nicer to pedestrians than motorists, though.

Am I saying Epalwatch should stop doing what they do? Of course not. I won’t even tell them to tone their zeal down, for that matter. That’s their call, and I myself would be quick to share something to their cause if and when I see politicians clearly crossing the line. All I hope is that just as willing as they are to criticize public officials who grandstand, they would also be willing to accept criticism when they jump the gun. I’d give the same advice to even the sincerest of politicians: don’t stop doing what you’re doing to help, no matter how much Epalwatch may question your motives. The hope is that as both sides push and pull and argue over what it means to be epal, people in general become more critical-minded and don’t just jump the gun and assume the worst in politicians when they try to do something.

There will be time for finger-pointing afterwards. I just don’t think we needed much of that in the middle of the tragedy itself.I think Dick Gordon himself said it best, actually:

Dick Gordon

Dick Gordon as the voice of reason? Now I’ve seen everything.

Oh, by the way. Has anyone heard a peep about what Vice President Binay was doing during the monsoon? Because I didn’t, and I normally get five text messages at a time whenever he does something for this country.

I’m just sayin’.

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DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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