MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) requested the Department of Health (DOH) to remove posters in the government's one-stop shop for medical services, called Malasakit Centers, that bear the face of senatorial candidate Bong Go.
"We requested DOH to remove posters in Malasakit Centers, government hospitals," said Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, in response to netizen Ana (@amicuscuriae99) who complained about the "super giant" tarpaulins of Go.
In a statement on Monday, March 25, Go said he has repeatedly reminded his supporters to remove illegal posters that bear his face and name.
He also told government employees to to "stay neutral" as instructed by the President.
"Paalala ko sa supporters ko, lalaban tayo nang patas at naaayon sa batas (I would like to remind my supporters, we will fight fairly and in accordance with the law)," he said.
Reacting to this issue, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III cited reports showing Go's posters can be found in the Malasakit Center at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). The PGH is supervised by the University of the Philippines, not the DOH.
Asked if he will order the government hospital to take down Go's poster, Duque told Rappler, "Comelec’s job is to reiterate that to all government offices without being selective."
The Omnibus Election Code prohibits the "use of public funds, money deposited in trust, equipment, facilities owned or controlled by the government for an election campaign."
Comelec Resolution No. 10488, in line with the Fair Elections Act, also bans campaign advertisements in schools, government offices, and health centers such as the Malasakit Center.
The Malasakit Center aims to be "a one-stop shop to hasten the delivery of medical services and give poor patients access to free medicines," according to the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).
In September 2018, Go inaugurated the first Malasakit Center in Metro Manila, according to the PNA. On the DOH website, 11 of the 21 articles tagged as "Malasakit Center" have the name of Go in the headline.
'From special assistant to special citizen'
Go's presence at the launch of Malasakit Centers prompted criticism from detained opposition senator Leila de Lima in a statement on January 26.
She pointed out that Go had resigned as special assistant to the President before he filed his certificate of candidacy for senator in October 2018. When he filed his candidacy, Duterte even accompanied him to the Comelec, prompting questions about special treatment. (READ: Comelec bends COC filing rules to favor Bong Go)
"What is a private citizen running for senator like Bong Go doing launching of government projects like Malasakit Centers in government hospitals, the latest being in Nueva Ecija? Bong Go is no longer a public official. He no longer works for the President in any official government capacity," De Lima pointed out.
"Bong Go has apparently graduated from special assistant to special citizen, because he is given all these accommodations and privileges by agency officials, apparently upon orders of Duterte," De Lima added.
An exclusive Rappler report on March 15 also showed that Go may be liable for vote buying because he distributed cash in at least two visits to fire survivors. But Malacañang doubts Go will face charges for vote buying, saying that giving cash to fire survivors should not be considered an election offense. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.