Bong Go

Who benefits from Bong Go’s withdrawal?

Bea Cupin
Who benefits from Bong Go’s withdrawal?

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, accompanied by Senator Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, confers posthumously the Order of Lapu-Lapu, Rank of Magalong, to Gat Andres Bonifacio received by Gat Bonifacio's great granddaughter, Buena Grace Distrito Casanova, during the commemoration of the 158th Birth Anniversary of Bonifacio at the Pinaglabanan Shrine in San Juan City on November 30, 2021.

Presidential photo

(1st UPDATE) Members of the supposedly dominant PDP-Laban are left without a standard-bearer

MANILA, Philippines – For observers and analysts, Senator Bong Go’s decision to withdraw from the 2022 presidential race could mean a lot of things.

For some, it could strengthen the unity among Duterte-allied players in the elections. Others, see switching of alliances from the national to local levels. All these shifts are happening two months before the official election campaign period even begins. 

But for a senatorial candidate whose political bloc had once been allied with President Rodrigo Duterte, the latest 2022 development is just proof that for the former Davao mayor, there’s no such thing as “forever” – even if you’re his most trusted aide. 

Ganito ang mangyayari sa mga sumasanib sa mga Duterte para sa kanilang agenda. Walang forever sa poder. Gagamitin lang kayo, iiwanan sa ere, tapos mahahatak pababa,” said Bayan Muna chairman and Makabayan senatorial bet Neri Colmenares on Tuesday, November 30. 

Colmenares, who once represented Bayan Muna in the House, was reacting to Go’s announcement on the sidelines of an Andres Bonifacio event in San Juan City that he was withdrawing his bid for the presidency – a move the President’s closest aide had hinted previously, both in media interviews and a meeting with Duterte’s allies

Go was nominated to run for president by the ruling Cusi-led PDP-Laban faction but on October 2, filed for the vice presidency instead. Days later, he withdrew that candidacy and filed for president via substitution under Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (PDDS), leaving the supposed dominant party with no standard-bearer for 2022. 

Citing his family’s concerns, Duterte’s age, and his personal discontent over a presidential run, Go said he was “sacrificing” and backing out of the presidential race instead.

While it was unclear what Go was sacrificing – he gets to finish a Senate term, which ends in 2025 yet – Colmenares saw the candidacy of the president’s personal aide as a mere “leverage” in the “crumbling Duterte-Marcos alliance,” referring to the President and the Marcos clan. 

The late deposed dictator’s son and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is running for president alongside Duterte’s daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte. The older Duterte has repeatedly expressed dislike over the tandem, going so far as blaming the team up on Marcos. 

But it’s Marcos who might just benefit from Go’s withdrawal, said Bayan’s Renato Reyes. “Bong Go’s withdrawal from the presidential race is an attempt to avert the split of the Duterte-Marcos alliance in 2022. The withdrawal of course benefits Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte,” he said in a separate statement. 

Political analyst Aries Arugay, speaking during a panel on ANC’s After The Fact, saw Go’s withdrawal as one less barrier towards a “Solid North and Solid South” voting bloc, referring to the Marcos bailiwick in the Ilocos region and the Duterte clan’s strength in Mindanao and parts of the Visayas.

This consolidation of command votes, said Arugay, is an “existential threat” to the true opposition.

2022 scenarios 

Colmenares, still reflecting on Go’s announcement, said: “May this serve as a warning to all politicians who will seek anointment from the President and his family in 2022.” 

The pitfalls of a Duterte alliance is something Colmenares and the Makabayan bloc know all too well. They supported Duterte’s 2016 campaign and would later join the House “supermajority” of Duterte allies. Key personalities from the progressive bloc were among Duterte’s first Cabinet appointees. 

Trouble between Makabayan and Duterte started shortly soon after – Duterte allowed a hero’s burial for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, peace talks with the Left failed, and the President did nothing when Makabayan-backed Cabinet appointees were rejected by the Commission on Appointments. 

A Marcos-Duterte alliance is shaping up to be a leading force in 2022. Sara Duterte is running under Lakas-CMD, while Marcos is the standard-bearer of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. 

Both the President and Go have endorsed Sara’s candidacy, even as the older Duterte blasted Marcos for being a “weak leader.” The President also raised veiled accusations at a leading presidential aspirant who was into drug use. But in his trademark way, the President did not present any proof of this allegation.

Go was never a front runner for president, although he had what a handful of presidential aspirants seem to want: an endorsement from Duterte. 

Marcos, even after Duterte’s tirades, had kept mum. Presidential candidate Senator Manny Pacquiao, Duterte and Go’s erstwhile ally in PDP-Laban said that while nothing “is final or formal yet,” he respects the decision of other presidential candidates. 

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, said he’d welcome an endorsement. “Antayin ko na kursonadahin nila ako,” he told reporters in a chance interview. (I will wait for them to choose me.)

In a chance interview while in Masbate City, Vice President Leni Robredo, who has led the opposition since 2016, downplayed the impact of Go’s withdrawal. “Hindi naman kami apektado ng mga nag-sa-substitute, umaalis. Sa amin, klaro sa amin kung ano ang dapat naming gawin,” she said.

(We aren’t affected by substitutions, withdrawals. We know what we need to do [in order to win].)

PDP-Laban, meanwhile, said it was holding a meeting on December 1 and would be releasing a statement on Go’s withdrawal after.

Moreno’s campaign manager Lito Banayo sees in Go’s withdrawal an “opening” for other candidates – politicians who had backed Go may now be searching for another presidential candidate. “That means the PDP-Laban stalwarts will be free to choose who to support, absent a presidential endorsement of Ferdinand Marcos Jr,” he told Rappler.

Meanwhile, in a statement on Tuesday, Partido Lakas ng Masa standard-bearer and presidential aspirant Leody de Guzman said the withdrawal of Go would further strengthen the Marcos-Duterte tandem.

Sa pag-atras ni Bong Go sa karera sa pagkapangulo, titibay na ang tambalang Marcos-Duterte. Nagsalubong pa rin ang kanilang interes sa kabila ng mga patutsada ni Digong laban kay Bongbong,” de Guzman said.

(The withdrawal of Bong Go from the presidential race would further strengthen the tandem of Marcos-Duterte. Their interests still aligned despite the tirades of Digong against Bongong.)

De Guzman’s running mate, vice presidential aspirant Walden Bello, added that Go should not have been in the race in the first place.

“Bong Go should not have been in the race in the first place. He had no chance of winning. He was seen as the slave of Duterte, as someone who had no mind of his own. Good riddance, Mr Go! We hope that Marcos and Sara will withdraw next,” Bello said.

Duterte, in a November 24 meeting with governors in Malacañang, reportedly declared that he’d stay “neutral” in the 2022 presidential race. Go, speaking to reporters on November 30, said Duterte and he were ready to support anyone who would “protect the Duterte legacy.” 

That legacy, for thousands of Filipinos, especially those in the opposition is one of a bloody drug war, attacks against the press, and the heavy-handed suppression of dissent. “Whatever the final outcome of their maneuvers, the people are more than ever resolved to stop a Marcos restoration and a Duterte extension,” said Reyes. 

Sara Duterte led early presidential preference surveys ahead of candidacy filing week and was trailed by Marcos himself. The late dictator’s son has since led some presidential preference surveys. – 

Bea Cupin

Bea is a journalist.