The Time to Stop Attaching Names to Government Projects Was Yesterday

Whose money are we using again?

filipino politicians
PHOTO BY Facebook / Mark Villar, KEN JOVER ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) Veteran broadcaster Bernadette Sembrano had a point to make regarding the LRT-2 East Extension launch on July 1. During the TV Patrol newscast on the Kapamilya Online Channel that day, the anchor impassively asked field reporter Joyce Balancio "Pwedeng malaman kung kaninong administrasyon nagsimula ang proyektong ito?"

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Balancio replied with a clear answer on the many decades it took for the project to be fully realized. It was conceptualized way back in 1999, approved for funding in 2015, and finally completed in 2021, recounted the reporter.

Still, the super-subtle, possible shade expertly thrown by Sembrano was not missed by the Internet. One Twitter user posted the moment online, stating "Unbothered and feisty ate mo Bernadette Sembrano." The post has unsurprisingly gotten a lot of attention, with nearly 2,000 retweets and 500 quote tweets as of writing.

There is a lot to unpack here. (And we're not just talking about the current president announcing his intent to run for the vice-presidency at what is likely the first of many ribbon-cutting events in the coming months.) With the nearing election season has come a rise in well, feelings, for lack of a better term, and the undying practice of politicans attaching their names (or branding) everywhere is just one of them. 

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Take recent posts on Mark Villar's Facebook page. The Department of Public Works and Highway chief has more often than not touted infra projects under the Build, Build, Build slogan of the Duterte administration—but a recent post of the Skyway has gotten a different type of reaction. 

Author Lualhati Bautista commented a simple #thankyouPNoy on Villar's post on June 30 and was immediately bombarded with more than a thousand comments. The next day, Bautista poked fun at the trolls who attacked her saying "Mas malaki ba ang kita pag ako ang binash nyo? Balita ko kasi, P2.50 lang kayo per comment.

If you want to be factual about it, both the Skyway and the LRT-2 East Extension first broke ground under the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's administration. The Skyway connector between north and south of Metro Manila is a Public-Private Partnership project that started in 2014, under PNoy. 

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Meanwhile, the train line extension—first conceived during the LRT-2 construction in the late '90s to early 2000s, was formally approved by the National Economic and Development Authority in 2012. The first groundbreaking event took place in 2015. When the Duterte administration took over, they had their own groundbreaking event in 2017, said Reynaldo Berroya, administrator of the Light Rail Transit Authority in an Inquirer report. Perhaps the ground was so hard it needed two groundbreaking events?

Utang na Loob

The sudden passing of Aquino on June 24 at just 61 years old caused a landslide of emotions, there's no doubt about that. But there is also no denying that the strange battle of crediting projects to certain politicians—as if these things aren't the bare minimum to be expected from our national leaders—has always been a deep-seated issue in the Philippines. 

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From waiting sheds literally reshaped to form letters to tarps with gigantic, smiling faces on them and more, politicans almost have a desperate need to be seen. And don't even get us started on the branded "merch" they give out. Air Binay, anyone? 

The Anti-Epal Movement

There has always been pushback on this practice. The aptly dubbed "Anti-Epal" bill has been filed and refiled in Congress. Ordinary citizens are also sick of the practice. Just take a look at the 45,000 strong Anti-Epal Facebook group that keeps track of ka-epalan across the country—and that, erm, impressively large mural unveiled in Bulacan.

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The anti-epal movement is also gaining ground with today's politicians, as proven by two dynasty-enders. Remember the free food truck doing rounds in Manila in 2019? The truck was originally emblazoned with stickers sporting the "Kusina ni Isko" branding—which Manila Mayor Isko Moreno had removed after folks online called his attention. It was promptly renamed to "Kusina ng Batang Maynila."

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has also made the anti-epal mandate clear in his administration. In a tweet after an event with city scholars, the mayor reminded folks never to feel indebted towards anyone—particularly politicians—"dahil pera ito ng taumbayan." He reminded the students, "Mag-aral lang kayo nang mabuti, sulit na ang investment ng Pasig sa inyo."

So what's wrong with attaching their names to projects? The thing is, no matter how small or inane it may seem, it reinforces the idea that we owe something to these politicians who are, more accurately, public servants using taxpayer money to provide us with basic services.

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All things from relief goods to a new highway, everything on the spectrum of government projects, are the bare minimum we should receive from the people we voted into office. As Sotto pointed out, it is all about "utang na loob," one of the deepest mentalities we Pinoys have—and should never be used as leverage by our leaders. 

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