"Bong Go is both in the legislative and executive branch."
Up until he became senator of the realm by an astounding come-from-behind election in 2019, he was the “pambansang photobomber,” the guy who was always beside the President, and who would take selfies with Mr. Duterte and whoever was in the background, be it The Donald or Xi Jinping.
Now, already a senator, he is still beside the President in official functions, whether presiding in a meeting with select cabinet and sub-cabinet officials regarding pandemic measures, or visiting soldiers in the field.
He is both in the legislature and in the executive branch. One cannot say however that he falters in his legislative work, for he attends both online sessions and committee hearings without fail. Still, he finds time to be with the man he treasures most above all, and who in turn trusts him more above any other.
This is Christopher Lawrence Tesoro Go, better known as Bong Go, who from the time he finished his business administration course at De La Salle University, has been a follower and know-it-all assistant of then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte, now president of the Philippines.
Those who desire continuity in policy, in reforms, and even in style of governance of the present occupant of Malacanang need look no further than entrust to Bong Go the reins of government after Duterte’s term of office ends in 2022.
Not even Duterte’s daughter, Inday Sara, the current mayor of his city, can be as seamless in style and substance as Senator Bong Go if continuity is the question.
The guy is simply tireless. Of course he is only in his mid-forties, and can intertwine work in the Senate along with being the de facto special assistant, or SAP, a position especially created for him when Duterte became president in 2016. As SAP, he had under his wings the very important Malacanang think tank cum work horse, the Presidential Management Staff or PMS. Appointments to most positions in government were screened by his staff, as well as meetings with the president by both public officials and leaders of the private sector.
Over and above these, he can still find time to play a mean game of basketball practically each week, his form of relaxation and de-stressing in Manila. In homecourt Davao, Bong regularly jet-skis from the city to the beaches of Samal on week-ends, before the president starts his day which is normally after lunch. The energy is simply boundless, even for a 46-year-old.
Interspersed with all these, Sen. BG, as many call him, still finds time to inaugurate his Malasakit Centers in different hospitals all over the land, a one-stop shop for medical assistance services to indigents for whom, despite PhilHealth, an appointment with sickness is a family financial crisis.
Started in early 2018 with a Malasakit center in Cebu City’s Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Sen. Bong has as of this writing opened a hundred such Malasakit Centers all over the country. In these one-stop shop assistance centers, Go, with the help of friend Sec. Michael Dino, the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, put together DOH, DSWD, PCSO, Pagcor and Philhealth to pool resources and assist the financial needs of hospitalized indigents. Dino claims that the centers have served close to 2 million marginalized people since 2018.
Malasakit is a Tagalog term that connotes empathy, even compassion towards others. It will be recalled that in the middle of 2015, when Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was moving around the country introducing himself to various sectors and testing the waters, a television infomercial which ran for less than 20 days for lack of funding support was aired, showing a rough and tumble mayor riding a motorcycle amidst his Davao City constituents, touting his domain as one of the world’s safest cities, and in visual images showing his empathy towards the common man, from senior citizens to children. That infomercial was tagged “Tapang at Malasakit.”
Tapang or courage is how then Davao mayor Digong was known all over the country for, but behind the tapang was a “hugot” of compassion towards the marginalized. To date, the loyal support of millions towards the president springs from his actualizing these leadership qualities through political will and a natural empathy towards his countrymen. Rare indeed is a leader who retains such high approval and trust ratings as Duterte, despite the pandemic and a shrinking economy. Not just in comparison to previous presidents, but even among leaders all over the world.
His assistant Bong now hugs the “malasakit” cloak, not only through his one-stop centers for medical assistance, but by bringing relief goods to wherever his untiring body can bring him each time there is a disaster or calamity. In effect, he subs for his Tatay Digong, whose senior-citizen body could no longer abide with such rigorous demonstration of empathy.
As senator, Bong Go institutionalized the malasakit program through legislation, signed by the president as RA 11463 in December 2019, just before the pandemic struck.
Compassion is a metric of political dividends particularly touching the hearts of the D-2 and E income classes. Not that Senator Bong uses his “malasakit” to gain such dividends, but like it or not, his fast ascent into the national consciousness, from the devoted “alalay” of Mayor, then President Duterte, is a product of the public’s recognition of his selfless service.
It is for this reason, aside from his amazingly strong 3rd place showing in the 2019 senatorial derby, that pollsters and pundits have classified him as “presidentiable.”
But gravitas is something else, and Senator Bong has yet to gain the same. People in this country tend to typecast their political figures in much the same way they typecast actors and actresses. T’is sad, but such is political theater, where perception is reality.
Bong himself dismisses presidential ambition. “Count me out,” he said the other day, referring to aspirations for higher office next year. But many of his colleagues in government and in the president’s close circles, benefitting from his ever-present role as the Duterte “go-to guy,” want him to try for the top post.
Will he? Or better still, will the President will it?