By John Mark Escander
NAGA CITY (10-April-2013) – The “Epal” issue is clouding the propaganda war that is raging between two contending parties in the Second District of Camarines Sur.
Epal, a Filipino slang with a range of meanings, can be interpreted as an act of credit-grabbing by politicians of projects funded with government money through posters, tarpaulins or billboards.
Senate Bill No. 1967 or the proposed Anti-Signage of Public Works Act authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, in its explanatory note, cites state policies of honesty and integrity in public service and public office as public trust to propose the prohibition for public officials from claiming credit through signage announcing a public works project.
Challenger Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte, who first raised the “Epal” issue against incumbent Rep. Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo, criticized in a press release the latter’s signages claiming credit for projects implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
Villafuerte was reacting to a photo showing a billboard with the smiling portrait of Arroyo and texts that say “TKO: Tubig, Kalye, Oportunidad …Construction of Bridge…Priority Project of Cong. Dato Arroyo” along a highway.
Arroyo, on the other hand, accused Villafuerte of riding on the projects implemented during his term with signages, insinuating credit for them, posted with his photo and that of President Benigno Aquino III over the highway in the Second District.
Incidentally, President Aquino, without naming names, made a remark that “it does not mean that persons whose photographs appear with him in tarpaulins are his allies” during his recent visit here on March 21.
The showdown between Villafuerte and Arroyo is unprecedented in terms of rivalry and campaign tactics.
Both candidates have been using television ads to project their accomplishments to prime-time television viewers, aside from food packs distributed to every household during the so-called visitations that have been going on since last year.
A third party has joined the propaganda war that tends to favor Gov. Villafuerte’s candidacy when the party-list group Sanlakas filed on March 5 a plunder case at against Arroyo.
Lawyer Roberto Guevara, legal counsel of Sanlakas and one of the four complainants of the plunder case, said the filing of plunder charges against former President and now-Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Dato is part of Sanlakas’ “Basurarroyo” campaign to convince the voters to junk re-electionist candidacies of the former president, Mikey Arroyo and Dato in the upcoming May polls.
Guevarra said “emphasizing the clear and imminent danger that the plundering troika of the Pekeng Pangulo, Pekeng Sikyo (Security Guard) and Pekeng Bicolano would cause real and actual damage to Filipinos.”
But Dato is unperturbed about the plunder case, saying it will not prosper because the pieces of evidence used were clippings from the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the announced projects his mother made during his 34th birthday in 2008.
The second district of Camarines Sur is composed of 282 barangay units in the towns of Libmanan, Pasacao, Pamplona, San Fernando, Minalabac, Milaor and Gainza located northeast of Naga City.
A third candidate, former San Fernando Mayor Sabas Mabulo (Liberal Party), joins the fray in the congressional race in the second district.
Created in 2009, which has been criticized as political accommodation to both Arroyo and Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. who made a comeback as representatives after his stint as budget secretary of the Arroyo administration, the second district of Camarines Sur was the result of the partition of the combined towns of the former first and second districts into three districts, which was authored by Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte.
The new partition, which added one more district in Camarines Sur–making them five from four, became final in January 2010 after the Supreme Court under impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona ruled on its constitutionality.
It was questioned by then senator and now President Benigno Aquino III and former Secretary Jesse Robredo for not meeting the requirement of 250,000 population.
With the partition, the first district has been reduced to just five towns, second district to seven towns and the third district to eight towns from the 20 towns of the former first and second districts of Camarines Sur. [PNA]