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Sen. Bong Go needs a Bong Go

Once, when I was still with the faculty of the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, we were interviewing our own department’s graduate assistant who thought of moving up. He applied for a vacant instructor position. The senior professors were in attendance, which lent an intimidating air to the proceedings. After the brief unfreezing banter, one of them asked a particularly difficult question on political philosophy, and we waited as the applicant gathered his thoughts. Then he said, “Sirs, Ma’ams, it does not mean that if I cannot answer you today, I cannot answer you tomorrow.” There was a split second of silence before the meeting exploded in tearful laughter.

I remembered this anecdote when I watched Sen. Christopher Go plead with the Senate President to please end the interpellation he was facing. He was like a broken record in defending the 15 hospital bills his committee was reporting out. The people are suffering under the pandemic, he said, so legislation intended to help them must not be unnecessarily delayed by interpellation, even by the likes of Sen. Frank Drilon, the Minority Floor Leader.

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There was time for Go to marshal better arguments and provide more data, but he simply kept repeating his emotional appeal in Filipino. On several occasions, a female staff member who sat nearby in the gallery would furiously scribble notes and pass them to him. I felt relieved that help was within reach. But when Go read the staff notes in English, they offered no new arguments, only more embroidery on his scratchy theme and tone of voice.

Go is not applying for the Senate. He is already a senator, and he has to learn to perform like one. As a senator working with other colleagues playing an institutional role and following a work program, his most important competency arguably should be working within the rules and pace of work in the Senate. How out of step Go is with the Senate cadence is revealed by Drilon. The health measures Go is fast-tracking had been pending in Go’s own committee for 15 months. Worse, funding for these bills would have been possible if they were passed in 2020. There is no identifiable fund if passed this year.

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This is embarrassingly worse than a wardrobe failure. To be kind to Go, could it be blamed on “completed staff work” failure? Recall that “‘completed staff work’ is the study of a problem, and presentation of a solution, by a staff officer in such form that all that remains to be done on the part of the head of the staff division, or the commander, is to indicate his approval or disapproval of the completed action.”

It is a mistake to think of the Senate as only consisting of the senators. The Senate staff is the broad bottom base that holds up the Senate as a legislative body. Nearly half of the Senate’s expenses in 2019, or P1.49 billion, went to the salaries and benefits of the staff of senators. Another P509.63 million went to maintenance and other operating expenses.

The Senate attracts some of the brightest support staff—institutional and personal—from various disciplines. There is no reason a senator can’t build the support system that will enable him or her to perform like the others.

By their own account, employees of the Senate are hardworking and highly motivated. One online work environment rating site reports that the Senate staff rate their Senate work ecosystem to be a 4.4 out of 5, based on 29 respondents. Work-Life Balance is reported to be 4.0, Salary & Benefits 4.1, Job Security & Advancement 3.8, Management 4.2, and Culture 4.3.

Many personal staff of senators would be so much more experienced, knowledgeable, and competent than some senators. Many of these staff would have actually served with outstanding senators, and a new senator can try to at least inherit or recruit the best ones.

Which brings us back to Sen. Go. Isn’t his claim to fame doing magical completed staff work, filing the candidacy of one Rodrigo Duterte for President (while he was reportedly at home sleeping), managing to substitute his principal for one Martin Diño who had earlier filed his certificate of candidacy for mayor of Pasay City? That is the kind of completed staff work that is needed. Maybe Sen. Christopher Go needs to find his own Bong Go so he does not get clobbered next time he goes up against Sen. Frank Drilon.

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TAGS: Bong Go, Franklin Drilon, plenary debates, Senate
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