COMMENT: In 2022, no more ‘epal na trapo,’ please

·Contributor
·5 min read
FILE PHOTO: A boy carries a sack of goods past election campaign posters in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro
FILE PHOTO: A boy carries a sack of goods past election campaign posters in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Erik de Castro

Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar posted on his official Facebook page on July 2 a photo of the Skyway Stage 3, with the caption, “The work of 6.5 million Filipinos. Good night!”, followed by the hashtag #BuildBuildBuild, referring to the centerpiece infrastructure program of the Duterte administration.

Meanwhile, on July 3, he posted a photo of the recently opened LRT 2 East Extension project, announcing its opening to his more than 786,000 followers and congratulating Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade (as to why, I don’t know). Again, Villar used the same misleading hashtag: #BuildBuildBuild.

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But what Villar consistently fails to mention in his posts is that these projects (and many others) are all approved and initiated during the late and former President Benigno Aquino III’s term: the Skyway Stage 3 broke ground in 2014 under the Aquino administration through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and not through Duterte’s Build Build Build, while the LRT 2 East Extension project was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority in September 2012 and started construction in April 2015 – again under PNoy’s PPP, and again not under Duterte’s Build Build Build.

Villar was also wrong when he said in an interview published in the government-backed Philippine News Agency that “this [Skyway project] is a realization of President Duterte’s promise to decongest EDSA.” No, to say that it was a Duterte project clearly misleads the people; not just because it was completed in Duterte’s time does not mean it was his project to begin with. This project was a vision of and initiated by the Aquino administration with the financial funding of San Miguel Corporation.

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Being an “epal” – a Filipino slang term for somebody who’s fond of inappropriately showing off and taking credit for other people’s work – is a trait of a “trapo” or “traditional politician.” In the Philippines, we refer to politicians who belong to the conventional and corrupt ruling classes as a trapo. Villar’s inappropriate show-off attitude is a clear example of an epal and a trapo – or an epal na trapo.

Villar is not the only epal na trapo that we have to watch out for now that we are less than a year away from the 2022 Philippine national elections.

Several large billboards of chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo have recently been installed along major throughways in Manila last week: one on Katipunan Avenue and another on North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). The billboard on NLEX has a rather less subtle campaign sound in it; it bears the text, "PANELO SA SENADO MOVEMENT" (Panelo for Senator Movement). Last week, in his weekly public address, President Rodrigo Duterte referred to Panelo as "my favorite candidate for senator." He also said to Panelo, "Tatakbo ka ba? Sabihin mo na at para malaman ng mga tao" (Are you going to run for senator? Say it so the people would know already).

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Why is the president, of all people, initiating this public addressing of candidacy announcements? For the 2022 elections, the campaign period shall commence on February 8, or 90 days before the May 9 elections. Although confusingly, the Commission on Elections also said that there is no such thing as “premature campaigning” because there are no official candidates yet as of this time, which makes the official campaign period technically almost useless. I remain dumbfounded as to why this seemingly large loophole in our election laws remains, well, a large loophole. If Comelec is not going to fix that, then who will?

Malacañang doesn’t seem to be in the position to do so, too, although they took the effort to remind candidate-wannabes that they should set aside politicking especially now that the country still grapples with global health crisis. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque particularly pointed out Vice President Leni Robredo – who is anticipated to be one of the opposition frontrunners to run for president – saying, "Itigil na muna ni VP Leni ang pamumulitika” (VP Leni should stop politicking for now).

But this is clearly ironic, especially since Roque has been a common sight in several events campaigning for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte to run for president, which Roque never called out.

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This is the cause of having an epal na trapo in power and position: an epal na trapo supports and encourages their fellow epal na trapo. It is absolutely absurd that it is our current leaders who are piloting this clearly inappropriate and disgusting practice of being an epal na trapo. 

When these epal na trapos are put into power, we’ve got a big problem. Filipinos should already know by now that an ineffective and corrupt state always sees a gridlock because the very people who are supposedly organizing the traffic are busy with their collective political agenda. The economic barriers that we constantly confront stem from the way political power here is exercised and abused by epal na trapos. We are not even talking yet about how their presence in social media has become their own traps to talk and show off more, but do less.

They are proud of being a trapo. That’s just one thing about them. This, even though trapo in Filipino also means “basahan” or a filthy rag.

With their dirty ways and attitude, maybe that’s what they really are – a “trapo,” a “basahan.” They are low-quality and always smell fishy. They are supposed to be tools to clean up, but when you put them in clean water you would see just how much black dirt they’ve got in them. Do we really want them to lead us in the next 6 years?

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Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written mostly news features, in-depth special reports, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.

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