DSWD-Bicol tightens watch vs ‘epals’ as local campaign starts

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Candidate in CamSur distributing rice in plastic container with his photo. Photo from Facebook
Candidate in CamSur distributing rice in plastic container with his photo. Photo from Facebook

LEGAZPI CITY (31-Mar-2013) – The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Bicol is shifting to high gear in its fight against “epals” as the campaign period for local candidates in the May elections starts on March 30.

“Epals” is the informal Filipino term that refers to politicians who are seeking public attention by claiming a government project or service as a product of their own efforts.

They are considered as persons who are annoying and obnoxious or who do incredibly stupid things to attract attention.

“We are intensifying our anti-epal promotion during the local campaign period to thwart efforts of politicians in Bicol toward taking advantage of the department’s social protection programs and projects to gain popularity and project positive images,” DSWD regional director Arnel Garcia said here over the week.

The “Bawal ang Epal” campaign will be formally launched by the DSWD regional office in partnership with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and civil society groups in the region on April 4, according to Garcia.

He said his office has been receiving reports that some incumbent officials who are running for reelection are threatening some beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) or the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) that their cash subsidy will be stopped if they will not vote for the former.

On receiving earlier reports concerning this matter, the DSWD regional chief said his office promptly launched an information drive to dispel such threats.

In the information drive, Garcia said, “we make it very clear that no municipal and city mayor or even governor is given the power or authority to remove from or include in the master list of 4Ps beneficiaries anybody.”

These local officials are not even allowed to recommend somebody into the program because the agency has its way of determining who are qualified and who are not, he stressed.

Beneficiaries are identified through the DSWD’s National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction while removal from the list or forfeiture of benefits is only done when a household beneficiary fails to abide by the conditions set by the program.

These conditions state that children of the beneficiaries must regularly go to school 85 percent of the school time, receive vaccinations and visit the health center for regular checkups and treatments while parents must attend responsible parenthood seminars, mother’s classes and parent effectiveness seminars.

Each of these households that complies with the requirements receives their cash subsidy allocations amounting to a maximum of P1,400 monthly and will continue enjoying such monthly benefit until the program is terminated,

CCT is a poverty reduction and social development strategy of the national government that provides conditional cash grants to extremely poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education particularly of children aged 0-14.

The DSWD serves as the lead agency in the implementation of the program.

“Only the DSWD central office and not the local chief executives can delist beneficiaries and such can only be done when the conditions set are not complied with. These are what we have been emphasizing among our 4Ps clients,” Garcia said.

In disseminating this information, DSWD assistant regional director Felix Armeña said DSWD teams have been going around Bicol province to re-orient 4Ps beneficiaries on the program with emphasis on the facts that no local official could make changes in its implementation.

“Our public affairs office has also been regularly airing over local radio stations vital information that will further enlighten the public and 4Ps beneficiaries on the program so that they are not easily carried by the misrepresentations of epals,” according to Armeña.

It seems, however, that the information drive is not enough as reports on epals using the 4Ps persist, especially in the province of Sorsogon, “that is why we are coming up with a more vigorous Bawal ang Epal campaign,” Armeña said.

The DSWD has already enlisted around 200,000 households in the six provinces of Bicol that are now receiving cash subsidies through the CCT.

The figure, according to Armeña, has become attractive to politicians considering the votes that these poor people could deliver once intimidated through the misinformation that epals are spreading.

On the intensified anti-epal drive, Garcia said they will encourage the public to report to the DSWD or COMELEC the abuses.

“We are treating with utmost confidentially the reports and the reporters so that their security is not compromised. When reports on epals making use of the DWSD programs to their advantage are proven true, we will not hesitate to file charges against them for violation of the election law and any other offenses that may be appropriate,” he added. (PNA)

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