By: Rommel F. Lopez

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go (PNA photo)

Long-time Duterte ally Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Thursday refused to take any questions from or be interpellated by his fellow senators insiting that they are all equals and that he is not a student.

Go made this remark after he delivered a privilege speech slamming the Health, Budget, and Labor departments for the delayed release of financial compensation to health workers infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

This prompted Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon to ask Senate President Tito Sotto if this can be allowed.

“As we said, we commend the gentleman from Davao for taking the privilege hour to call the attention of the bureaucracy in its neglect of the frontliners. But the good gentleman has said that he will not take questions,” Drilon noted.

“I just want to place on record that prior to this Congress, there was no such practice of not accepting or not allowing interpellation. Because historically and by tradition, the Senate has always been known to be the arena where the policies of the national government are debated whether through law, resolutions or privilege speeches.”

“I just want to know, however, if this is the new normal that we have, Mr President, not allowing interpellations on the floor. In an effort to thresh out or strengthen the positions that we would take on national issues, I’m placing that on the floor,” Drilon added.

Sotto responded that it is the “prerogative of the senators” whether they would take questions or not, but the Senate President agreed with Drilon that “it was never the practice not to entertain any question every time you rise on the floor.”

“Usually the practice is that when you rise, you have to answer the questions or you have to have allow yourself to be interpellated… We cannot force anyone to yield the floor to anyone once he rises, unfortunately,” Sotto added.

Sotto pointed out, however, that the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago once refused to entertain any questions after making  a privilege speech.  The reason behind it, he said, was that she was annoyed at then Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

Sotto said that Go, Duterte’s long-time aide, is “well advised” to allow senators to pose questions next time.

But on Drilon’s question of whether not entertaining questions is the Senate’s “new normal”, Sotto had this to say: “I don’t think it is. Definitely not.”

Go responded that Drilon’s observation is “well noted” adding that he is willing to be interpellated depending on the issue.

“I’m willing to be interpellated eh itong issue na ito is my privilege and siguro kung baka matatagalan tayo, mauubos ang oras natin dito,” he said.

“Remember that we are colleagues here, we are elected by the people and we are all senators. I am not your student, and you are not my proctor,” he added.

Drilon, nonetheless, placed it on record that he respects the privileges of his fellow lawmaker and that he is just curious on the matter of entertaining questions while on the floor.

“I recognize parliamentary rules, I recognize privileges of the senator on the floor. We do not question that. I just want to know if this in the new normal in this Congress,” he said.

Because Go refused to be interpellated, the Senate did not discuss Go’s speech on health workers’ compensation.

During the campaign period in 2019, then senatorial candidate Go refused to join any senatorial debates.

However, Go said in August 2019 that he is willing to debate jailed Senator Leila de Lima face to face in her prison cell.  Go was reacting to questions from reporters about his stand on a Senate resolution to allow De Lima to participate in plenary debates through video conference.

“Mas gusto ko harap-harapan. Gusto ko harap- harapan. Yung personal talaga,” Go said.

“Gusto ko debate kami sa floor. Kung hindi, ako pupunta dun sa kanya, debate kami dun.”

Go slammed the different government agencies after Senator Sonny Angara revealed that health workers who tested positive for COVID-19 have yet to receive the financial compensation laid out under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, health workers who tested positive with COVID-19 are entitled to receive P100,000. P1 million should be given to the families of those who died from the disease.

Senators criticized the Department of Health for the delayed release of the funds citing the lack of the law’s implementing rules and regulations.  Sotto on Wednesday, June 3, said that the DOH’s waiting for the IRR is just an excuse for the health department’s failure to do its job.