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'Epal' photos sour Yolanda relief ops


As local and international support poured in for the countless victims of Typhoon Yolanda, photos of alleged “epal (credit grabbing)” activities of some politicians also flooded social networking sites.

On the “Anti-Epal” Facebook page, netizens posted pictures of relief goods and trucks used in relief operations with labels and tarpaulins bearing names and pictures of politicians.

Though largely unverified, the photos riled up many netizens, many of them chiding the politicians for grandstanding in the face of the year's worst disaster.

Among those widely lambasted was Vice President Jejomar Binay. This was after pictures of relief goods with his office's logo on the plastic went viral online.

Binay's media officer, Joey Salgado, denied the relief goods came from them, saying relief bags from the Office of the Vice President have neither stickers nor markings on them.


Another picture showed trucks with tarpaulins stating they were part of “Relief Operation to Tacloban City” and have Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla's name and picture on them.

Mere identification vs. epal”

Vince Lazatin, executive director of Transparency and Accountability Network and the man behind the “Anti-Epal” Facebook page, said putting the donor's name on relief bags is not bad as long as it is for the purpose of identification.

“Sa relief operations, importante na malaman ng tao saan galing yung goods. Importante rin sa donor na malaman niyang umabot talaga dun sa intended beneficiaries yung relief goods,” he told GMA News Online by phone.

He, however, said this is only acceptable for agencies such as Red Cross and USAID, and government offices.

“Ang iniiwasan natin ay 'yung mga individuals lalo na local at national government officials. Pinagmamalaki nila 'yung sarili nila. Karaniwan naman hindi sa kanilang bulsa galing 'yun,” he said.

“Yung sa mga volunteers, OK lang kung may identifying mark para kung kailangan mo ng tuloy o may tanong ka ay madali mo magawa, wag lang yung pangalan o mukha nung pulitiko,” Lazatin added.

Good examples

On “Anti-Epal” Facebook page, netizens lauded relief and medical missions that set good examples, among them those sent by Davao and Valenzuela cities.

The relief goods from Davao City only have a simple note that said, “You are not forgotten.” The same with Valenzuela's truck, which only has a tarpaulin that states, “Oplan Western Samar Relief and Medical Mission.

Illegal

Lazatin said based on Section 19 of Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, misrepresenting the source of relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities is illegal.

To be punished with a fine of P50,000 to P500,000 and/or imprisonment from 6 years to 12 years are those who will:

  • either cover, replace or deface the labels of the containers to make it appear that the goods, equipment or other aid commodities came from another agency or persons;
  • repack the goods, equipment or other aid commodities into containers with different markings to make it appear that the goods came from another agency or persons or was released upon the instance of a particular agency or persons;
  • make false verbal claim that the goods, equipment or other aid commodity in its untampered original containers actually came from another agency or persons or was released upon the instance of a particular agency or persons.

Fewer “epals”

Asked if “epal” politicians are still rampant, Lazatin said there are fewer cases now than in the past.

“Base lang sa mga sinumbit sa Facebook page namin mas konti ngayon. Dati pati lata ng sardinas may pangalan ng pulitiko,” he said.

He noted that credit-grabbing activities were widespread during the campaign period for the May 2013 midterm elections.

Lazatin believes the vigilance of the people against “epal” politicians has somehow deterred the practice. “The campaign put pressure on the politicians to refrain from credit grabbing. Mas cautious na sila ngayon,” he said.

The public's outcry against pork barrel, or Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), was also a factor, Lazatin added.

“Dahil sa PDAF, nararamdaman na nila ang galit ng tao sa kanila. Sensitive na sila sa tao,” he said. — KBK, GMA News
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