SBG. Senator Bong Go. The presidential aide who was basically chief of staff/executive assistant to the Mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, became the second most powerful man in the country after his principal won the Presidency in 2016. Aides have a long history of being equally or more powerful than their principals because they are the gatekeepers. They control not only the physical traffic flow but also the flow of information. It is a trust and confidence position specially for powerful men or women, such as the President of the Republic. Aides can be the most popular or also the most hated people among the President’s cordon sanitaire. It depends on who is the de facto primus inter pares among the cordon.
In the case of Go, he is with the President and is at his beck and call not only 24/7 but probably 25/8. It’s actually an achievement that Go managed to remain relatively unscathed as the President’s term is about to end. Men like Go are usually the main targets of competitors vying for the sought-after position they hold. The Executive Secretary is the de facto chief of staff of the President but Go is even more powerful than Salvador Medialdea. It isn’t surprising that the two forged an alliance against Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco, who is also close to the President. Evasco was the de facto Davao City Mayor. Duterte isn’t known for spending time in the office attending to the details. He had Evasco for that. As Cabinet Secretary, he was supposed to be the conduit between the President and the Cabinet. Medialdea was to run the Office of the President.
Ironically, it was also the Senators who brought Go upon themselves to become part of the chamber. The investigation into the frigate deal with Hyundai for the Philippine Navy over Go’s marginal note on the document sent to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana caused Go’s appearance before the Blue Ribbon Committee. That fishing expedition led the President to tap Go for a Senatorial run. It could be said that Duterte now had a conduit who would keep him well-informed about what the Senators were up to. Up until last week, there was no sign that Go’s relationship with his colleagues had become untenable.
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The Commission on Audit (COA) flagging triggered the latest brouhaha between the Office of the President and the Senate. It can’t be said that there was no malice on the part of the COA considering audit findings aren’t final until a Notice of Disallowance has been issued. Also, the bureaucracy is notorious for non-compliance which triggers the findings to begin with. The anomalies are only confirmed when the agency or department cannot produce the documents justifying the transaction or defending themselves from non-compliance. The instances of corruption in the bureaucracy cannot be denied. It exists despite every President making the promise that it will be minimized if not completely eliminated. The problem is the bureaucracy itself which has gone from bad to worse since the post-Marcos period began. It can be said that everything was controlled when President Ferdinand Marcos was in power — including corruption. The democracy following his ouster also democratized everything — including corruption. This is why it now exists from top to bottom. Not all, of course, but mostly.
When it is the political season, anything goes in Philippine politics. There are Senators who are up for reelection. There are the political orphans who no longer have the backing of the parties they ran under six years ago because it lost the top race. There are the Presidential aspirants who still believe that negative campaigning will work against the incumbent. The recent US Presidential election proved an incumbent can be defeated if the pandemic response is used as an issue against him. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s actually guilty of what he is accused of. It just needs to look that way before the public. Duterte hasn’t been one to adhere to stereotypes. He continues to be popular and isn’t even a lame duck going into his last months in office. The Opposition had to do something. This is that something. It is an old strategy which is typical for them. But they continue to believe it will work in their favor.
It cannot be denied that there is a rift between the father and the daughter, Inday Sara. It does not appear to be contrived as those in the Opposition have openly speculated. Go is caught between a rock and a hard place but he knows where his loyalty lies. It is with the President. The Davao Originals are also reluctant to relinquish power which is why the Go-Duterte tandem came about. As voters, we should all be pragmatic about our politics. We should bear in mind that our politicians are products of a flawed system of government. If this wasn’t the case then we should be up there with Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. But we are not. Our power is only exercised every six years. We should use it wisely and judiciously. All this political theater is just that and nothing more. We should be used to it by now and not be swayed by the usual claims that one side is good while the other is evil. We are at a crucial juncture because of the pandemic. We should be more cunning and devious than our so-called leaders and make it known on May 2022.
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