Bong Go’s political odyssey

"From political neophyte to a leader, he transformed within just a year into a magna cum laude in national political praxis."


People still wonder how Bong Go, previously derided as a mere “alalay” of President Rodrigo Duterte, managed to get 20.6- million votes in the last elections to become senator of the realm.

In a contest where veteran and widely known political names such as Villar, Poe, Marcos, Cayetano, Angara, Roxas, Aquino, Binay, Estrada cum Ejercito were all in the running, plus movie stars like Lapid and Revilla, the senatorial contest of 2019 was what analysts describe as “masikip,” especially for neophytes. 

When it was announced that Go would gun for the race, his numbers were woefully, though expectedly low, despite his being by the side of the President all the time, with selfies galore of major world leaders like Trump and Xi, Putin and Mahathir.

For one, his Chinese monosyllabic surname was not an advantage in a political culture where the typical senatorial candidate sported familiar Filipino names, which are hybrid Hispanic mostly.

As far as this writer can remember, we only had two monosyllabic surnames among the roster of post-war senators prior to Bong Go.  One was pre-martial law Senator Roseller Lim of Zamboanga City and the other, Fred Lim of Manila and Bulacan.

Fred Lim was already a nationally known political quantity before he ran, and won as senator in 2004.  His tough-guy image as a police official, NBI director and mayor of the capital city earned him national recognition long before he ventured into the upper house of Congress.

Bong Go’s first run for an elective post was the Senate, mismo.  Until Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte captured the national vote in 2016, Bong was known only to fellow Dabawenos as their mayor’s most trusted aide, and to the national politicians in Manila also as Duterte’s go-to contact person.

With uncanny facial similarity to Art Yap, GMA’s agriculture secretary, later congressman and now Bohol governor-elect, President P-Noy would jokingly call him “Art Yap.”  

It was in late February 2018 when he and I cut the ribbon for a hyperbaric facility donated by MECO to the Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao that Bong confided that he was being asked by the president to go for a Senate seat. My first reaction was, who would and could replace him as the President’s most trusted aide?

In late September 2018, after an audience with the president where BG was present, we briefly discussed the forthcoming filing of his COC, and his awareness and vote conversion ratings where he ranked 17-18 in the poll survey.

I assured him it was early days, and if PRRD would, as expected, campaign for him in the next few months, those numbers would surely go up.  To his chief campaign aide Gelo Villar who conferred with me while waiting in the Malacañang anteroom, I predicted a Number 6-7 ranking for BG, all things being equal.

But by March, no less than the poll survey analysts were saying that the trajectory for Bong was upwards to a possible Number One, and a likely scenario of Number Three.  Amazing!

Of course it cannot be denied that this was because President Duterte in every stump praised the “serbisyo ang bisyo”of his trusted aide, and vouchsafed for his character and integrity.  His TV advertorials were excellently crafted as well, with compassion or malasakit the over-riding message.

It was a takeoff from candidate Duterte’s tough guy with a heart message when he began his political odyssey to the presidency, which we tag-lined into “Tapang at Malasakit.” But Bong himself thought of the Malasakit centers, a one-stop go to for indigents to avail of financial and other medical assistance needs in public hospitals, with the able initiative of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, Michael Dino.  The 34 Malasakit centers broke ground in the first quarter of 2018 at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital in Cebu City, funded by private donations.

Not having been in the country during the most part of the last campaign, it was only last weekend when I witnessed for myself how Bong Go worked the crowd.  I was invited by Secretary Michael Dino to a thanksgiving and early birthday party in Cebu for the senator-elect from Davao.

Cebu gave BG what could be called a landslide victory next only to the Davao provinces, placing a close second to topnotcher Cynthia Villar, garnering 1.2-million votes from province and city.  Of course, as described in a previous column, Dino and his political allies managed to make a self-effacing vice-mayor named Ed Labella win over veteran Tomas Osmena of Cebu City, in what pundits thought was lopsidedly a sure win for the incumbent. All the president’s endorsed candidates for senator won , except for Toy Mangudadatu and JV Ejercito, but that was because fellow Cebuano Serge Osmena and Ang Probinsyano’s Lito Lapid managed to get inside the winning circle.

Together with some friends, I went to the Hapsay Cebu headquarters in Lahug to wait for Bong Go to finish his visit to Mambaling and another barangay’s recent fire victims.  This was the campaign headquarters of the Bong Go for senator movement and the PDP-Laban Barug local candidates.  It was located in a big vacant lot with an old one storey building, which we used also in 2016 for the Bisaya na Pud movement that delivered a solid Bisaya vote for then Mayor Duterte’s presidential bid.

Suerte nga lugar,” Bong Go told the crowd of barangay leaders recalling that Duterte went there in 2016 as well.  And like his idol, Bong took a long time to get to the improvised stage as he shook hands and posed for pictures with his admirers. Later, he even partook of a simple meal of pork adoboand pancit atop a bed of rice, boodle fight style.

When he spoke, he was as humble and modest as the presidential aide we all knew.

Huwag ninyo ako tratuhing senador; pare-pareho lang tayo dito,” said he, and waxed about the value of utang kabubut-on, gratitude which he segued into his slogan of serbisyo.

He was speaking to his leaders, organized as a parallel, non-partisan movement for a new Cebu City order, to complement the partisan Barug political vehicle of former Mayor Mike Rama, who won as vice mayor to Labella this time around. As a veteran of many campaigns since the death of Ninoy Aquino in the ’80s, I was impressed at the rapport of this political neophyte with the crowd, and how they in turn were so touched by his presence.

My long-time political associate, an old hand in local politics who was city administrator for nine years in Rizal whispered when he saw BG’s encounter with the common folks: “Kasisir, Bong oozes with sincerity; taong-tao at walang pretensions.”

Indeed, the amazing Bong Go—from political neophyte to a leader, transformed within just a year into a magna cum laude in national political praxis. Quick transformation for a political odyssey, but who knows where it would further lead?

Topics: Bong Go , Rodrigo Duterte , Politics , Election , Senate , Southern Philippine Medical Center
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