COA bans epal posters; violators face criminal raps

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Putting up life-sized “epal” posters to announce government projects including dental missions and feeding programs is now a crime.

The new rules issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) cover even the little things that politicians do to grab credit like putting their names or faces on shirts, pens and candy wrappers.

The new policy on information and publicity for government programs, projects, and activities (PPA) said violators may face administrative liability or criminal charges.

COA chair Maria Grace Pulido-Tan and commissioners Juanito Espina Jr. and Heidi Mendoza signed Circular No. 2013-004 on Jan. 30, 2013 effectively making epal acts unlawful.

Under the new rules, the public is actually given the power to be informed of government programs and initiatives through posters and tarpaulins. But such materials should be of the same size, minus features with obvious political color.

For infrastructure projects, announcements should be on a white tarpaulin eight feet in height and width, and should use Helvetica font in black color and in one-inch and three-inch font sizes only. It should only contain relevant information like a brief description, supplier or contractor’s name, start of construction and date of completion, among others.

For non-infrastructure projects like medical and dental missions, distribution of relief gods and services, feeding programs, sports events, workshops and seminars, and even office anniversary celebrations, the same features must apply to the announcement material but in a smaller size of only three feet by four feet.

“The display and/or affixture of the picture, image, motto, logo, color motif, initials or other symbol or graphic representation associated with the top leadership of the project proponent or implementing agency/unit/office, on signboards is considered unnecessary,” the COA circular read.

“This rule shall also apply to signboards displaying and/or affixed with the picture, image, motto, logo, color motif, initials or other symbol or representation associated with members of Congress, executive officials of local governments where the PPA is implemented wholly or partially through the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Congress, through other forms of government fund transfers from the executive department or LGUs (local government units),” the rules stressed.

“The display and/or affixture of the items mentioned above on equipment and facilities; vehicles of all type, whether engine, manpower or animal driven; wrappers, containers, and similar items; tokens, souvenir items, calendars, ballpens, t-shirts or other apparel, and other publicity materials relating to any PPA, is also considered unnecessary,” according to the COA circular.

And considering that the midterm election in May is fast approaching, the new rules emphasized that “no election related expense or propaganda, even if lawful under existing laws and the rules and regulations of the Commission on Elections, shall be charged against public funds.”

The circular, under its penalty clause, said unnecessary use of public funds would not be allowed and officials found to have overspent would be asked to return the excess amount.

“Failure of the concerned agency or COA officials to comply with any of the provisions of this circular shall be subject of administrative disciplinary action... without prejudice to the filing of a criminal action, if warranted by existing laws,” the new policy warned.

Tan, Espino, and Mendoza said the new rules are being issued based on the exclusive authority of the COA to promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations including those for the prevention and disallowance of “irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties.” 

Poll campaign violations

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said continued violations of the campaign poster rules have been observed in major streets in Manila, despite the poll body’s repeated appeal to candidates.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez led a Comelec team from the Education and Information Division (EID) and took photographs of the campaign posters that “potentially” violate the rules on common poster areas.

Jimenez expressed concern that propaganda materials of local candidates were proliferating in major thoroughfares although the campaign period for local polls will start on March 29.

“We are also seeing a lot of posters from the local. They are considered ‘epal’ because the campaign period for them has not started,” he said.

For the national bets, the Comelec observed that potential violators are mostly party-list organizations.

The Comelec team inspected Taft Avenue, Quirino Avenue, Plaza Dilao, and the campus of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

They have observed posters of party-list groups Anakpawis and Ang Kabataan at the center island and plant boxes along Taft Ave. and on the pillars of the Light Rail Transit, while the streamers of Buhay party-list were found hanging on trees along Quirino Avenue.

The posters of party-list groups Gabriela and Akap Bata and Team PNoy senatorial bet Juan Edgardo Angara were seen posted on electric posts in the area.

The team went to PUP and validated reports that campaign streamers of Ang Kabataan were posted inside the campus, in violation of Comelec Resolution 9615.

Under Comelec Resolution 9615, the agency’s election officers must identify common poster areas where candidates can post their propaganda materials.

The resolution prohibits the posting of campaign materials in “waiting sheds, sidewalks and lampposts, electric posts and wires, traffic signage and other signboards erected on public property, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses, flyovers and underpasses, bridges, main thoroughfares, center islands of roads and highways.”

Jimenez said the Comelec would immediately send notices to the errant candidates and they will have three days, upon receipt of notice, to remove the posters. Otherwise, the Comelec would initiate disqualification proceedings against them.

“Although you would not see ‘vote for me’ on the posters, I just have to emphasize that these campaign materials do not have to carry ‘vote for me,’” Jimenez noted.

The official was also alarmed that while campaign materials were posted in restricted areas, the common poster areas in Plaza Dilao and along Old Sta. Mesa, Manila were still empty.

“This is the second day of the campaign (so we don’t see that much posters yet) But our concern now is that they posted their materials in prohibited areas while the common poster areas were empty,” he added.

Jimenez said when the campaign period for national candidates started last Tuesday, “everything that is related to elections, anything you put out there with your name, or your image or your style will be construed as campaign materials.”

Asked about the possibility of candidates raising the argument that the posting of unlawful materials was a handiwork of rivals to frame them, he said the best thing to do is for them to take down the posters.

“They just have to remove the posters, as simple as that. Our policy is if we see materials, we will document and then we will inform them that there are such materials. If they don’t take it down, we’ll presume that the materials are for them, for their own benefit because they do not remove them,” Jimenez added. 

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes reminded local candidates that the campaign period for them has not yet started and will commence only on March 29.

He said that local bets could join the campaign sorties or political rallies of senatorial candidates, but the local politicians are banned from actually campaigning for themselves.

Meanwhile, the Comelec is now training instructors to educate the voters.

Brillantes said the budget was already released to the Comelec’s EID for the training program.

“We have started with the trainers’ training. We will then later coordinate with the various media agencies and networks for the implementation of voter education,” said Brillantes in an interview yesterday at the launching of the TV-5’s “Pagbabago 2013” in Pasay City. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Mike Frialde












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