Former Special Assistant to the President, Bong Go, is all systems go in his bid for the senatorial seat. In this exclusive, he tells us why he’s running and what he can offer the nation.

It was a few days after Christmas, and while most people were still on holiday mode, former Special Assistant to the Presidential (SAP) Bong Go was busy with the deliberations for the 2018 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), where he served as chairman of the board. The awarding was to happen that night, and his team was coordinating with us on when we can do the interview and photo shoot that we requested way back in August. After our team, Go’s supporters from Bicol were also to do a shoot with him. Later, we were told that Go might need to report to Malacañang after his MMFF schedule so we held our breaths for the possibility that we may have to “pack up” early. We understood the situation, of course. Go had just announced his senatorial candidacy, and his schedule had become packed with commitments in preparation for his official foray in politics.

So everyone heaved a sigh of relief when Go was ushered inside the suite. He graciously shook hands with the team and apologized for being late. He was cordial to everyone—none of the expected aloofness or airs of someone close to the most powerful leader in the country. He was a bit shy to be given special attention during the photo shoot and opted to wear some of his own clothes. He also refused to remove the rubber bands on his wrist, which for some reason, gives him a sense of self—we were told that Go uses these to bind documents, something he probably needs to confront on a regular basis.

His generosity in granting selfie requests—which people find endearing and relatable about him—might earn him the votes in the upcoming elections, but there is definitely more to Go than being the selfie master. In this interview, we got to know him more and his reason for running as senator.

RIGHT HAND MAN
Go is the gateway to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. How he ended up being the president’s closest and most trusted aide has a long history that can be traced as far back as Go’s grandfather, August Tesoro, whose family founded Davao City’s largest printing press. “Actually, PRRD is a family friend of my lolo. Ninong niya ang lolo ko (my grandfather was PRRD’s godfather),” he told LEAGUE. “Kung gaano kalayo ang age gap namin ni PRRD, ganoon din sila ng lolo ko. (My age gap with PRRD is like PRRD’s age gap with my grandfather.)

Mahilig din sa politics ang lolo ko, kaya sila naging magbarkada. (My grandfather was fond of politics, so they became good friends.) PRRD was then a fiscal, and would visit my grandfather’s house. They were very close.”

Their level of closeness was such that when Duterte had to elope with the woman who would become his wife, Tesoro was their driver. And when Duterte married Elizabeth Zimmerman, Tesoro was one of the principal sponsors.

Go, on the other hand, had been interested in politics even as a young boy. At age 12, he was already familiar with the old political families of Davao, “I knew who were running and how long they had been in position.” What sparked his interest in politics even more was the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. At that time, their family was staying in Manila, shunning the political chaos in their hometown. “People were flocking to EDSA. Pumunta ako doon para lang makiusyoso (I went there out of curiosity),” he recalled.

Go’s family went back to Davao when Duterte took on the post as OIC vice mayor, and eventually won as mayor in the succeeding elections. The young Go, meanwhile, stayed in Manila to continue his education. He eventually graduated with a Management degree from the De La Salle University.

When Go moved back to Davao, he would often bump into Duterte in casual events, since the latter’s aide, Jimboy Halili, was Go’s friend. In an unexpected turn of events, Halili died in the middle of a basketball game. “Parang napilayan si Boss, kasi sanay siya sa aide niya (He felt crippled, in a way, because he’s used to having his aide),” remembered Go. “When we were at the funeral, he asked who can assist him with his lodging and transportation in Manila. I volunteered since I knew where it was located.” Since then, he would do volunteer work for Duterte, who was then a Congressman—take care of his professional and personal needs. And that was how their close ties started to develop.

In 2000, he was among the handful of supporters, who helped Duterte reclaim his mayorship against the incumbent Mayor Benjamin de Guzman. “`Yun ang time na down siya, ako ang nag-asikaso ng lahat (He was at his low point then, I took care of everything),” said Go. When Duterte won in the 2001 elections, he volunteered to work with him, even without salary.

Go has such high regard for Duterte because of what he did for Davao City—Duterte restored its peace and order. Go also admires Duterte’s compassion to help. In a way, Go sees himself in his boss. “Ganoon din kasi ako, eh. For example, kapag mayroong humingi ng tulong, ibibigay ko ang nasa bulsa ko, bahala na bukas kung may darating na pera. I believe in good karma kasi. Ganoon din si Boss. He would say, ‘Ibigay mo na `yan lahat, ibuhos mo na. Someday, babalik din ‘yan sa iyo, kahit hindi mo hingiin.’ (I’m like that as well. For example, when someone asks for help, I would give all that’s in my pocket; let tomorrow take care of itself. I believe in good karma. Boss is like that as well. He would say, ‘Give what you have. Someday, it will come back to you, even if you don’t ask for it.”)

While Go is considered a newbie in politics, he is not bereft of experience. “When it comes to knowledge and experience in politics I eat it everyday… for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

THE RELUCTANT POLITICIAN
He may be fascinated by politics, but Go admitted that he has no political ambitions. He added that the president’s proclamation that he will run for senator started out as a joke. “Pinatawag ako sa isang Senate hearing, kung saan pinagbibintangan ako sa isang bagay na wala naman akong kinalaman. (I was summoned for questioning at the Senate for something I know nothing about),” Go recalled. Notorious for his shocking pronouncements, PRRD declared in one of his speeches, “Itong si Bong pinatawag [sa Senate hearing]… that will be your ticket to the Senate!’”

Go did not take the president’s statement seriously, until PRRD spoke to him three days before the Senate hearing. He remembered PRRD reiterating, “‘Kung ano ang maging performance mo sa Senate on Monday, that will be your ticket to the Senate.’ (Your performance at the Senate hearing on Monday will be your ticket to becoming a senator). After the Monday hearing, he congratulated me, ‘You did a sterling performance! Believe me, you will win as a senator.’”

He tried to take his mind off it, and told himself that he will wait for a sign. “So before I made the decision, I even wrote PRRD a letter: ‘Ikaw na lang ang mag-decide for me. `Di ko isinali ang pangalan ko.’ Sabi nya, ‘Isali mo, tumakbo ka!’ Sumunod lang ako. I left it to the wisdom of the president. Kung ano ang makakabuti. (Be the one to decide for me. I did not include my name [in the list of senatorial candidates.] He said, ‘Include your name; I urge you to run [for senator].’” Go, as well we know, obliged like a dutiful soldier.

NOT A NEOPHYTE
While Go is considered a newbie in politics, he is not bereft of experience. “When it comes to knowledge and experience in politics, I eat it every day… for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,”he said smilingly. “I was the frontliner when PRRD was still a congressman, mayor, vice mayor… alam ko ang gulong ng buhay [I know the wheel of life].”

The senatorial aspirant took into account everything he knew about the plight of the Filipino people and the problems of the nation, in his 12-point legislative agenda which are as follows: 1) health 2) agriculture / food security 3) anti-illegal drugs and criminality 4) housing 5) education 6) long-term sports development 7) anti-corruption drive 8) localized peace talks 9) fire protection and prevention 10) department of OFWs 11) barangay welfare / magna carta of government officials and 12) senior citizens.

Foremost in his list of priorities are legislative measures to give people access to free medical assistance, such as the Universal Health Care Bill (UHC), with an end goal of attaining zero-billing for patients. Complementing the UHC program is the establishment of Malasakit Centers in every province and big chartered cities. Go explained that the Center is going to be a one-stop shop where patients can get financial assistance for their medical bills. “Instead of falling in line at the PSCO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office), PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation), DOH (Department of Health), DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), and PHILHEALTH (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation). Nagpalagay na kami ng representatives sa hospital. Hindi na sila kailangang mamasahe (We have deployed representatives to the hospital, so people won’t need to commute to seek assistance),” he said.

He’d also like to establish more health stations (1 station per 5,000 people), rural health units (1 RHU per 20,000 people), and city health centers in the country, equipped with enough supply of basic medicines, personnel and equipment. He said the positions of Barangay Health Workers (BHWs) should be made mandatory and their benefits improved as they are our frontliners in the delivery of quality primary health care. Providing free medicines and better health care for senior citizens is included in Go’s list of priority measures.

To address the issue on food security, he proposed the following: 1) Establish TienDA Malasakit Stores in key cities for fresh and cheaper food commodities. 2) Provide easy access for farmers and fisherfolk to farm and fishery inputs, such as machineries, fertilizers, seeds, irrigation and low-interest credit, etc., to increase their productivity. 3) Provide free business and skills trainings
(agri-preneurship) to farmers and fisherfolk and their families to further increase their income. 4) Give more incentives to children of farmers, such as better scholarship grants and other incentives, to encourage them to continue farming. 5) Establish a national Farmers’ and Fishers’ Pension Fund to provide financial security to farmers and fishers who are too old to work. 6) Include Barangay Agriculture subject in the curriculum of elementary and secondary school students.

ADDRESSING KEY ISSUES
Like President Duterte, Go puts a premium on education. Observing that there are municipalities who are dearth of education funds, the senatorial candidate proposes the amendment of the Local Government Code of 1991 to allow LGUs to use their respective Special Education Fund for the purchase of uniforms, school supplies, and equipment. Also included in his proposed measures are increasing the salaries of teachers; increasing the budget of the Department of Education in the annual General Appropriations Act for the provision of free uniforms, school supplies and other equipment in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide; creating the Bureau of Private Schools to help improve quality of education provided by private educational institutions; strengthening the Alternative Learning System (ALS) by increasing the annual budget of DepEd for the provision of school supplies, equipment and other support to poor ALS students and assistance to ALS facilitators; and exploring possible solutions to address the low enrollment rate in ALS and high drop-rate.

To address the growing demands for quality and cheap housing, Go proposed to strengthen the National Housing Authority (NHA) and provide them with more budget. His proposed measures include the establishment of relocation sites modeled after townships—complete with basic facilities, such as markets, terminals, health center, day care center and even livelihood assistance centers—before allowing people to settle in. Current statistics show that one in every five people in Metro Manila is an informal settler.

Keep the youth away from drugs and vices through sports development. Bigyan natin sila ng magandang sports facilities at programs.

In support of the president’s fight against criminality, corruption, and illegal drugs, Go recommended the establishment of sports and youth development centers in every LGU nationwide. “Keep the youth away from drugs and vices through sports development. Bigyan natin sila ng magandang sports facilities at programs (Provide them with sports facilities and programs),” he said. Furthermore, he also wishes to conduct an annual national sports caravan to strengthen the national athletes pool, widen coverage, and increase the incentives for sports competition not presently covered by law. In addition to free sports trainings and equipment, young people could also be offered free mentorship on entrepreneurship and other courses.

I will support the President’s drive against criminality, drugs, and corruption.

Go pointed out that there is a need to amend the Juvenile Justice Law, so that minors will not be used by criminal syndicates, especially as drug couriers. “I will support the president’s drive against criminality, drugs, and corruption. Galit talaga kami ni Presidente dyan. Susuportahan ko ang pangulo sa tatlong `yan (We are vehemently against those three. I will definitely support the president’s on this,” he said. Among his proposed measures is the establishment of more rehabilitation and reformation centers nationwide; strengthening Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) with bigger budget for wider operations, better equipment and personnel safety trainings; and studying the need to impose death penalty, particularly on heinous crimes involving illegal drugs.

To strengthen the president’s anti-corruption drive, Go proposed to study the imposition of higher penalties for all corruption-related crimes; study how to further improve the government procurement law to make the government more responsive and efficient, avoiding wastage in the use of public funds; and provide venues for citizen participation so that the private sector can be part of the anti-corruption drive. He also proposed to provide more incentives to those who report corrupt activities.

Go supports all mechanisms for LGUs to pursue localized peace talks in conflict areas, pursuant to the Executive Order issued by the President creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and institutionalizing the “Whole-of-Nation Approach” as government policy in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace. It is also Go’s plan to improve all assistance given by the government for rebel returnees, such as bigger livelihood cash assistances with necessary training, housing, farming lots, easier livelihood credit access, medical care and education support for their children, among others.

GOING TO THE GRASSROOTS
The senatorial candidate is pushing for the enactment of the Magna Carta for barangay officials that will provide them additional benefits and social protection, among others. “Nararapat lamang na magkaroon sila ng enough benefits kasi sila ang frontliner sa barangay. Sila ang nagi-implement ng programs. Sa ngayon, kulang ang benefits ng ating mga barangay officials, including SKs (They are the frontliners in the barangay level, so it is but proper that they receive additional benefits. They are the ones implementing the programs. At the moment, the benefits received by our barangay officials, including SKs, are not enough),” Go pointed out. He also proposed to study the possibility of extending their term of office of barangay officials to four years.

Other benefits that may also be granted to barangay officials, including Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials, are the following: 1) Creation of mandatory positions for the Barangay Health Workers (BHW) and grant of better benefits for them. 2) Improve the benefits given to barangay officials (Punong Barangay, barangay kagawads, barangay secretary, barangay treasurer and SK chair). Presently, they only receive honoraria and some benefits, but are not entitled to salary, hazard pay, Representation and Transportation Allowance (RATA), Personnel Economic Relief Allowance (PERA), Productivity Incentive Bonus (PIB), Clothing Allowance and 13th month pay. 3) Lift the limit on the maximum number of barangay tanods to be appointed per barangay, now presently fixed at 20 tanods only. Barangays with bigger area and/or with higher crime incidence should be allowed to appoint additional tanods. 4) Push for the grant of honoraria to other SK officials. Only the SK Chair is presently allowed to receive the same. 5) Explore other monetary and non-monetary benefits for all barangay officials.

Go’s sympathy for the elderly resonates in his legislative agenda, which includes the creation of the National Senior Citizens Commission to (a) implement all laws, policies and programs for the senior citizens; (b) supervise all the Offices of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCAs) in LGUs; (c) hear and decide cases and complaints filed by senior citizens; and (d) establish programs that will fully protect the rights and enhance the welfare of the senior citizens, among others.

He plans to enact a law that will provide FREE medicines to all senior citizens, instead of the current 20% discount only. In order to unburden the senior citizens, their monthly medicine supply may be delivered by the barangay health workers to their respective residences. He also proposed to increase the amount of the Social Pension Fund by adding more funds to the DSWD budget under the General Appropriations Fund. The amount may be delivered door-to-door by local DSWD personnel.

Go pointed out that there is a need to simplify the criteria to be qualified as an indigent senior citizen, by simply defining them as “those without permanent sources of income or other assistance,” and removing the “frail, sickly or with disability” requirement. This will allow more senior citizens to be covered by the Social Pension Fund.

According to Go, many OFWs and their loved ones are seeking assistance from their office. Hence, he sees the need to create a separate Department for OFWs for better coordination among related agencies, shorter reaction time for OFWs in distress, and improved services in handling all OFW concerns, including re-integration programs for those who wish to go back to the Philippines. “Maraming nahingi ng tulong—inaabuso sa abroad, gustong umuwi, o kaya ’yung pamilya nandoon. Mahalagang mabigyan sila ng proteksyon. (Many OFWs and their families are in need of assistance—we have OFWs who are abused abroad, who want to go home, or who want to meet their families. It is important that we give them protection.) Right now, they don’t know where to ask for help—OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration), DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), the Embassies. Kung may Department of OFW, isang department lang ang lalapitan nila to coordinate with the embassies, kung gustong umuwi, magpadala ng pera, get tickets, get legal advice, etc. (If there is a Department of OFW, there will only be one department that people will need to coordinate with the embassies, if they want to go home, send money, get tickets, get legal advice, etc.),” he said.

Being aware of the major issues and problems confronting the nation and knowing what can be done, Go seems well equipped to perform the duties of a legislator, guided by PRRD’s mandate “to serve the Filipino people first.” For a long time, Bong Go assisted the president in performing his duties for the country. This time, Go has an opportunity to do this on a bigger scale. Now it is up to the Filipino people to make this opportunity a reality. — LAKAMBINI BAUTISTA

I believe in good karma kasi. Ganoon din si Boss. He would say, Ibigay mo na ‘yan lahat, ibuhos mo na. Someday, babalik din ‘yan sa iyo, kahit hindi mo hinihingi.

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