He was a nobody. A personal assistant to a small city mayor. But who would have imagined that he would rise to become a high-profile senator of the Republic and would aspire to become one of the country’s highest elected officials?
Thanks to the propaganda machinery of the government. He has become a household name. For more than a year and a half, the public was bombarded with news stories about his work, not as a legislator but more like an executive handing out assistance to the needy.
People watching primetime television news broadcasts often see him visiting areas ravaged by fire or cutting ribbons of newly opened “Malasakit” centers nationwide.
There are nearly 140 “Malasakit” centers providing one-stop help to indigent families seeking medical care, supplanting the barangay health centers.
The devolution of health services has transferred funds and basic services from the national government to the local governments, which are ill-prepared to provide healthcare to all their constituents.
Undermanned, ill-equipped and without enough funds, the barangay health centers collapsed under the weight of the coronavirus outbreak.
The national government has to assume responsibility for addressing the health crisis, now one of the world’s worst managed pandemic responses.
The Philippines is ranked second behind Indonesia in terms of the most number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in Southeast Asia. It also has the second highest death toll in the region.
The “Malasakit” centers are competing with barangay health centers in the delivery of basic services. The national government should plow more funds to barangay health centers instead of channeling money to “Malasakit” centers that only promote a senator.
Technically, it is not the senator’s job to look after the health concerns of ordinary people. His main job is lawmaking and watching over how the government spends its health budget as an oversight function.
In a way, the senator is usurping the powers of the executive and the president is freely allowing him to assume the tasks that he could barely perform because of his own medical conditions.
The Philippines has seen the return of what could be a conjugal leadership, as the senator takes over the job of a sick president imprisoned in his ivory tower.
Rodrigo Duterte is seen only on television once a week and the broadcasts are recorded and aired usually very late at night until early morning, when most people are deep in their sleep.
But his surrogate is seen moving around everywhere and is lurking behind the president every time he makes a public appearance.
No elected senator nor Cabinet member has 24/7 access to the president, a very unique situation. Go keeps the keys to the gates and, at times, even announces executive decisions.
No official in the three branches can go straight to the chief executive without passing through Go.
Most of the appointments in the executive, including in the armed services, need to get Go’s nod first before the president signs an appointment, a promotion and an assignment to key and sensitive positions.
There is a running joke within the military that appointments are no longer decided by the board of generals (BoG) but by a single person known also by the same initials — BG.
He wields so much power such that wealth is not far behind. It is mind boggling where the senator gets the money to dispense to fire victims, the homeless, and the sick. He even has his label of rubber shoes to give away.
But his own institution is slowly unmasking the mysteries behind the senator’s philanthropy.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is tying the loose ends to uncover a web of corruption in the purchase of face masks, face shields, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and coronavirus testing kits.
A Davao City-based lawyer who helped Rodrigo Duterte in his presidential campaign in 2016 is at the center of the controversy after the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the Department of Health (DOH) for transferring P42 billion from its budget to the Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (DBM-PS).
Lloyd Christopher Lao headed the DBM-PS office until June this year but at the height of the pandemic last year, he awarded some P8 billion in contracts to a little-known company, Pharmally Pharmaceutics Corp., to buy medical supplies and materials.
Forget the prices of the materials and supplies. It is standard operating procedure in the government for goods procured to be overpriced. But there were rules circumvented to favor the company.
Pharmally was set up less than a year before it cornered the juicy contract. Its capitalization was too minimal for it to get a billion-peso supply contract. It is like a little “sari-sari” store beating big supermarkets — SM and Robinsons — to supply commodities to the government.
The company has no track record of getting government contracts and the company’s addresses are fictitious. These are red flags for the government to be wary of before signing a deal.
Obviously, Lao only looked at the names of the people who run Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp.
These are the people who are known to be very close to the conjugal leadership. It is not hard to connect the dots as to why Pharmally got the juicy contracts.
There is no evidence yet that the president and his surrogate had benefited financially from the deal, but one can only imagine where the overpayments went.
Duterte is in panic mode trying to defend the deal, casting doubts on the COA reports, insulting senators looking into potential corrupt transactions and threatening a constitutional crisis.
Duterte’s spokesman, on the other hand, was digging into the past, accusing the past administration of buying overpriced medical supplies at a time when there was no pandemic.
But he forgot that COA did not flag the purchase and there was no investigation and graft cases at that time. Roque is only burying the administration deeper by inadvertently admitting there were overpayments in the new supply deal.
Taking cue from his master, the senator parroted the president’s defense, turning the tables on a fellow senator, saying there’s nothing wrong with his undying devotion to Duterte.
He was reminded that as a public official, he has taken an oath to be loyal only to the office and not to the person holding the office.
But his loyalty to Duterte has brought him to where he is now — a senator with unbridled access to the president, acting at times as his surrogate and with limitless opportunity to gain wealth.
He is the luckiest man in the Philippines.