Will ARTA’s campaign against “epal” public officials work?

Recently, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) sent out notices to municipal mayors that all boundary markers, particularly welcome arches straddling the national highway, would be demolished in compliance with a directive from the regional office.

According to DPWH Catanduanes, seven such structures in Catanduanes would be torn down in the next few weeks, aside from two that were already removed in connection with road widening projects.

Normally, such demolition in compliance with law does not raise any reaction from the public, except perhaps from travelers, who have often welcomed the boundary arches upon reaching their destination.

Except for a few citizens who noted that two of the markers bore the names of the towns’ respective municipal mayors.

The welcome arches deserved to be torn down, they said, not only for encroaching on the national road right-of-way but also for serving as a platform for self-promotion of local officials.

Just four months ago, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) sternly reminded government officials to refrain from putting their names and faces on government documents, citing numerous complaints it received on the matter.

According to ARTA Director General Jeremiah Belgica, politicians have long since taken advantage of this system wherein the head of agency or local government unit usually places the former’s name and picture as indirect advertising or a way to make it appear that the people owe a favor to them.

“These pictures of politicians on permits and licenses affect the cost of printing that the applicants are shouldering,” Belgica said, stressing that the self-advertising of politicians is already being prohibited by the Anti-Epal provision of the 2021 National Budget.

Under General Provision No. 82, government officials, whether elected or appointed, are banned from self-promotion through placement of names, pictures, or otherwise on programs, projects, and any other initiatives that are funded by the government through the General Appropriations Act.

“With the election season nearing, mahigpit po nating pinaaalahanan ang ating kapwa kawani ng gobyerno, na tigilan na ang paglalagay ng mukha at pangalan nila sa mga government funded projects including documents and issuances. Tayo po ay pinapasweldo ng taumbayan, hindi po nila utang na loob sa atin ang de kalidad na serbisyo publiko. Don’t self-promote,” DG Belgica added.

It makes you wonder whether crusaders for good government will hail before ARTA some municipal mayors who placed their colored pictures on the identification cards and discount booklets of senior citizens and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as on Mayor’s Permit to Operate issued to businesses.

With just two months to go before the filing of Certificates of Candidacies, expect the faces and names of local politicians to appear in tarpaulin signs in projects funded by their respective LGUs.

Already, similar tarpaulins have appeared in spots facing the churches of a politically-powerful religious congregation.

Even the DPWH itself has joined in the self-promotion extravaganza, installing at its on-going projects big signs touting its infrastructure projects and bearing the highlighted name and large picture of a beaming Secretary Mark Villar, who is rumored to be running for senator next year.

By the time the actual campaign period rolls in, ARTA will have its hands full addressing complaints against “epal” government officials, assuming well-meaning citizens decide that enough is enough and take them to account.

But whether these “walanghiya” public servants would be actually punished for their deed is another matter.

One only has to look up at past examples of self-promotion, including a well-known multi-purpose building, to learn that the offending names are usually just painted over.

It will take some time for the public, especially voters, to disabuse themselves of the notion being promoted by their leaders that they, not the people’s taxes, were the reason these projects were implemented.

Ironically, it is these very projects that are the source of money used to buy votes in every election, guaranteeing the survival of crocodiles in barong for yet another fruitful term.

In this country, most of the Philippine electorate are actually glad to sell their votes on election day, only to be fried in their own lard in the next three years.

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