Introducing the new Bong Go: Media-shy to media-savvy

MANILA, Philippines – The President’s silent but ever-present assistant. The man behind the scenes, never front and center. The doer, not the talker.

Just a few months ago, this was how the country still saw Special Assistant to the President Bong Go. (READ: The man they call Bong Go)

Today, Go, it seems, is poking his head out of his shell. Filipinos are more and more seeing a different side of him – a Go who could rival any politician in smooth talk and sound bites, who gives frequent media interviews, and gets powerful people to speak words of praise for him.

The new Bong Go emerges from a cloud of rumors, actively encouraged by the administration, of his supposed senatorial bid.

This Bong Go has given two radio interviews in the span of 4 days, a far cry from the man who was allergic to being quoted and who shunned media interviews like they were the plague.

The old Bong Go, who rarely went anywhere in public without the President, had a speaking engagement with the military on Monday, March 19, where he was the guest of honor.

The same Bong Go, who had once been content with selfies with famous people, now has his own set of official Malacañang photos.

Media interviews

Both radio interviews Go gave recently focused on the supposedly massive support for his Senate bid and his work as Duterte’s closest aide.

For example, in his interview with state-run PTV on Saturday, March 17, Go suavely dispelled talk that he is seeking a Senate seat.

Masyado pang maaga pag-usapan iyong pulitika. Sa ngayon trabaho po muna ako kay Mayor Rody, sa ating Pangulo, saka may trabaho pa po ako sa sambayanang Pilipino,” he said. (It’s too early to talk about politics. For now, I will just work for Mayor Rody, our president, and the Filipino nation.) 

Host Erwin Tulfo even commented on how the Senate hearing showed the public how "fluent" the presidential aide really is.

This prompted Go to share his “secret.”

Sa totoo lang, galing sa puso iyon. Basta nasa sa ’yo ang katotohanan, at from the heart, nasa puso – iyon ang totoo, iyon ang sikreto doon,” he told Tulfo and his listeners.  

(Truth be told, that was from the heart. As long as you are speaking the truth and from the heart – that’s the truth, that’s the secret there.)

His second interview, on Monday, March 19, showcased his office’s swift action on calls for help from individuals with a variety of health concerns.

Malacañang photos show how Go even brought one of them, Teresita Tendenilla, to the Philippine General Hospital so she could get treatment for the cyst above her eye.

DZRH got their regional correspondents to look for persons badly in need of assistance for them to tell Go, on air, what they need from the Office of the President.

Go responded with promises to help.

He told one caller with asthma: “Tutulong po kami. Unang-una, bago ko makalimutan, kailangan niyo siguro ng nebulizer. Ito yung araw-araw na kung mahirapan tayong huminga. Kung wala po kayo niyan eh magpro-provide po kami kaagad.” 

(We will help. First, before I forget, you need a nebulizer. This is what you use if you have a hard time breathing. If you don’t have one, we will provide you one right away.) 

But at least one caller wasn’t there to ask for a favor. A lady who said she had breast cancer spoke to praise Go for the “fast” response of his office to her plea.

Asked by the anchor for her message to Go, she said: "Nagpapasalamat po ako sa inyo, sa kay Presidente Duterte, sa lahat ng tumutulong sa amin…Sana marami pa kayo matulungan." 

(I am grateful to you, to President Duterte, to all those helping us…I hope you are able to help more people.)

ON THE PODIUM. Usually to be found sitting onstage as President Duterte addresses an audience, Special Assistant to the Bong Go got his turn on the podium on March 19 at a Philippine Army book launch.

Malacau00f1ang photo

A few hours later, Go served as guest of honor and speaker at the Philippine Army’s launch of a book about the Marawi crisis.

Go, who is more often found sitting onstage as Duterte addresses an audience, got his turn at the podium.

Before the day was over, Malacañang’s photography division had sent the media official photos of the event. 

In the making

While most people trace the start of talk about Go’s Senate bid to President Rodrigo Duterte’s speech on February 6, Go had already been asked about plans to run for senator as early as January.

This was two weeks after his staff circulated photos of him jetskiing around Davao City to rescue residents trapped in their flooded homes during Tropical Storm Vinta. 

There had been lighthearted talk in Malacañang that those photos were being spread to burnish Go’s image for a Senate run.

When Rappler asked Go about it, he vehemently denied such plans, even asking that nothing be written about it. 

A few weeks later, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler published stories about Go’s alleged intervention in the Navy’s frigates project, putting him under the national spotlight.

Eager to clear his name, Go practically volunteered to join any congressional hearing on the controversy. True enough, in a week’s time, the Senate announced it would conduct such a hearing.

On the day of the hearing, Go came in with guns blazing, even mustering a sizable crowd to gather outside the Senate’s gates to cheer him on.

The hearing went smoothly for Go, with key personalities in the Navy frigates deal insisting on his version of events and many senators taking his side. 

All-out support 

While Go himself has not confirmed he will run for senator, there are loud indications of the all-out support he will enjoy if he does. 

Loudest of all is Duterte himself floating the idea in public in his February 6 speech when he said the then-upcoming frigates Senate hearing could be to Go’s advantage.

“That is your golden opportunity para ma-senador ka (to become senator).” Gusto atang tumakbo ng senador, sige (I think he wants to run for senator, then okay),” said Duterte. 

Cabinet officials quickly chimed in with Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar even brainstorming a possible campaign slogan (“Gorabels 2019”) and campaign jingle (“Wake me up, before you go, go…”).

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, on Facebook, described Go as the ideal “bridge between Senate and Palace” and made a fearless forecast that the presidential aide would make it among the top 5 most winnable candidates.

Then on March 14, an event was held in Intramuros dubbed “Ready Set Go 2019” and described by an official press release as “the launch pad for his (Go’s) senatorial run.”

In attendance were Cabinet members like Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, and congressmen Jericho Nograles, Luis Raymund Villafuerte, and Ancieto Bertiz.

Also among the crowd were celebrities like Philip Salvador and Jimmy Bondoc, faces that had been around during Duterte’s presidential campaign.

In fact, if not for the posters screaming Go’s name, the event could have easily passed for Duterte’s old campaign sorties. 

A Ready Get Set Go email address had sent media a press release about the event, entitled “Duterte wants Go to run for senator,” complete with official photo. 

The future seems rife with possibilities for Bong Go. If these past weeks have shown us anything about him, it’s that Go, like his principal, is full of surprises. – Rappler.com

Top photo: MEDIA SAVVY. Special Assistant to the President Bong Go is guest at a radio show on March 19, 2018. Malacañang photo 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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