Senators amp up praise for Bong Go during frigates hearing

MANILA, Philippines – By the end of the Senate hearing on the frigates controversy, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go declared he was "vindicated" by the public forum from allegations he intervened in a big-ticket military project.

"The truth was revealed at the conclusion of this Senate hearing. I have been vindicated," he said, reading out a prepared statement to reporters outside the session hall after the 5-hour hearing.

Go's declaration also came after several senators offered glowing testimonials about him.

One by one, senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Grace Poe, Loren Legarda, and Richard Gordon used their limited speaking time to vouch for Go's innocence or insist on the lack of evidence against Go. (READ: DOCUMENTS: How Bong Go is linked thrice to frigates deal)

Zubiri, citing his long friendship with Go, said he has never heard of corruption allegations about the presidential aide since the latter started working for President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Ni minsan wala silang narinig na masama na ginawa ni Secretary Bong Go. Each time they would ask assistance from him to facilitate para hindi sila ma-red tape, never humingi si Secretary Bong Go, humingi ng lagay, fixer's fee, ng porsyento sa negosyo, wala," said Zubiri.

(Not once did they hear that Secretary Bong Go did anything wrong. Each time they would ask assistance from him to facilitate so they won't face red tape, Secretary Bong Go never asked for a commission, fixer's fee, or a percentage of the business.)

"He just did his job judiciously, religiously, and he did it well. So all these coming out, I agree, is fake news," the senator from Mindanao added.

He even said Go exemplifies several virtues of a model government official, before assuring the top presidential aide that he believes none of the media reports.

"You know, he has characteristics, Mr Chairman, that are sorely lacking in many public officials and public servants: loyalty, humility, and honesty. So I can vouch for his credibility, knowing him for that long. So Secretary, ako'y hindi naniniwala sa fake news na 'yan (I don't believe that fake news)," said Zubiri. 

Applause greeted this part of Zubiri's statement. Clapping in the session hall is usually not allowed. In previous hearings, those who do so are sometimes even told they are out of order.

But in this Senate hearing, there was no such reprimand, even when those in the hall applauded after other remarks supportive of Go made by other senators.

Zubiri even inserted a lighthearted assessment of Go's penchant for singing – the only time, he said, that Go agrees to take center stage.

"Magaling po 'yan kumanta, Chairman, sa totoo lang (He's good at singing, Mr Chairman, truth be told)," said the lawmaker.

'Waste of time'

Senator Loren Legarda, meanwhile, said she would no longer direct any questions to Go since it would just be "wasting time."

"Mr Chairman, with all due respect, I think we are wasting the time of Secretary Bong Go sitting here because it's very clear, wala naman siyang kinalaman dito (he has nothing to do with this)," said Legarda, eliciting applause around the room.

"I am not prejudging it. I'm just calling a spade a spade. I've done my homework, I've read all documents, and all I see is this handwritten message and it's a pro forma request of Secretary that says, 'Look into it.' Don't we all do that?" said Legarda.

Senator Grace Poe also spoke positively of Go's ability to command the trust of many Cabinet officials, proven, she said, by their attendance to the hearing.

"First of all, this is the first time I've observed this many secretaries from different departments, save for a budget hearing. Many really trust in your testimony and integrity, Secretary Bong," said Poe in Filipino.

"Actually, I have long observed your compassion towards our President, not just now, but even before," she added.

Poe was also sympathetic with Go's rant against reports by Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, articles he labeled "fake news."

"I understand how you feel. Sometimes, all of us are victimized," she said.  

Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, also did not see any value in asking Go any more questions about the frigates deal.

"I think it would be superfluous to ask Secretary Bong Go any more further questions because the text of the note on that page simply is a query on what the President should do so they can probably rebut or answer questions allegedly propounded by a supplier," said Gordon.

By the end of the hearing, Go was able to say, "It is clear that I and my office did not intervene."

The only thing that the Senate hearing proved, he said, was the "great inconvenience caused by fake news." (READ: Bong Go rails against Rappler, Inquirer in Senate hearing)

Go arrived at the Senate hearing to cheers of a large crowd of supporters, also insisting on his innocence. Some of these supporters, however, admitted they did not know the topic of the hearing or the allegations against Go. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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