It seems that the respective heads of the various departments and important government offices under the executive branch have all the time in the world at their disposal.
The cabinet secretaries of President Rodrigo Duterte came in full force to give moral support to a beleaguered colleague who is at the center of a controversial Philippine Navy warship deal which is now a subject of Senate investigation.
So how powerful, influential and special is Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go?
If the number and the prominence of the officials from who attended today’s hearing are of any indication, it appears that Go, contrary to his misleading reputation of being a low profile aide of the president who accompanies the latter wherever he goes, is indeed an important and very powerful member of Duterte’s official family.
The officials who attended the hearing were led Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr who, based on the present bureaucratic structure, are two of the highest officials in the executive branch after the president.
The Executive Secretary is traditionally called the “little president” and, as such, is deemed superior over the other Cabinet secretaries. The same stature and importance is bestowed upon the Secretary to the Cabinet.
The fact that Medialdea and Evasco opted to show up in the Senate to support a presidential assistant who does not head a cabinet, bureau or office and does not have a clear and specific duties and responsibilities speaks volume of the influence of Go in the administration of Duterte.
Other officials who were present at today’s hearing before the Senate were DFA Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano, Presidential Spokeman Harry Roque, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) chief and assistant secretary Martin Andanar and Mocha Uson, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Labor Secretary and Undersecretary Silvestre Bello and Jing Paras, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office board member Sandra Cam and Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino.
The presence of the presidential mouthpiece and communication team is somewhat forgivable because it is their primary function to disseminate to the public the official stand of the administration on issues of paramount importance most specially when a close aide of the president is involved in a far-reaching controversy.
But how about the others? What is the relevance of foreign affairs, labor, energy and justice to the so-called Frigates controversy?
If they just made their presence felt as a way of giving moral support to the president’s most trusted and closest confidante, then these public officials are not only being remiss in their sworn duties as heads of the departments that they lead but, worse, they have wasted the taxes paid by the Filipino people.
It is the first working day of the week and these officials chose to have an excursion in the Senate during office hours just to be Bong Go’s cheering squad.
Cayetano, for instance, should have attended to the needs of overseas Filipino workers being repatriated from Kuwait and other countries. Bello should look at the plight of workers being laid off as a result of the weakening economy in the country and the imposition of the burdensome TRAIN law. And Aguirre should start acting as a “justice secretary” and address the inefficient, anti-poor and abusive justice system in the country under this administration.
But Cayetano and his coterie of moonlighting public officials were not in their offices in what should have been a busy Monday morning for government workers. Instead, Cayetano was in the gallery of the Senate, not only to cheer for his principal’s favorite assistant but to act as Go’s lawyer.
“It’s an absolute lie,” the DFA Secretary defended Go from insinuation that he meddled in controversial deal.
If ordinary State workers are administratively penalized for loafing and moonlighting during office hours, a heavier punishment should be imposed against erring high officials to set an example to other government employees.
Going back to the question of how powerful, influential and special the photobombing special assistant to the president is, we heard from the grapevine that Duterte does not sign documents without his go-signal. We were told of appointment papers ready for signature by Duterte but are collecting dust at Go’s office waiting for the latter’s favorable endorsement to the president.
This, plus the show of force of Duterte’s cabinet at today’s hearing, are indicative of Bong Go’s great power and influence within the president’s circle of trust. The next question is why?