MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go denied yesterday allegations that he was using for political ends the “Malasakit Centers” being put up in many parts of the country.
In a privilege speech, Go hit back at Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who earlier questioned the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s funding of the centers, a pet project of the senator.
Malasakit Centers are a “one-stop shop” facility where Filipinos seeking medical assistance could be served by several government agencies in one place instead of them going to various offices.
Go said residents of Albay were benefiting from the program with Lagman’s son Vice Gov. Grex Lagman attending the opening of such a center in the province.
He said he received reports that those confined in government hospitals in Albay were required to visit the congressman just to get some benefits or assistance so that he could “show to their faces that it’s you (Lagman) giving assistance.”
“That’s why it truly saddens me that I’m the one accused of partisan political activity when I’ve never asked any endorsement, identification or privilege care from people that ask for help,” Go said.
He challenged Lagman to put up his own facilities called “maramot (selfish)” and “manhid (callous)” centers.
He said the program was designed to streamline and expedite the delivery of medical services to Filipinos, especially to those who need them most.
“It is one of the solutions of the Duterte administration to provide quick and quality access to healthcare to all Filipinos, regardless of their age, sex, ethnic background, religion – and let me emphasize this – regardless of their political affiliation,” Go said.
Lagman hits ‘ballistic’ Bong Go: I didn’t even name you
Instead of enumerating his priorities and his legislative agenda, as expected of any first-time senator, Go devoted his maiden privilege speech to lambasting the 77-year-old opposition congressman. He even called the veteran lawmaker names and told him his face was beyond repair – all because he had raised questions about Go’s pet project, the Malasakit Centers.
In his speech, Go said, “Wala rin pong legal basis ang pagtulong ng pag-repair sa inyong mukha. At paprangkahin ko na rin po kayo, your image is beyond repair. Hindi ikakaayos ng mukha ‘nyo ang pagkontra ninyo sa interes ng mga Pilipino.”
(There’s no legal basis for helping you have your face fixed. I will be frank with you, your image is beyond repair. Standing against the interests of Filipinos won’t fix your face.)
In a statement issued Wednesday, August 28, the Albay 1st District Representative hit Go’s “ballistic reaction” to the questions he had raised to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) regarding the Malasakit Centers.
“Neophyte Senator Bong Go, instead of defining his legislative agenda, which is usually the subject of a maiden privilege speech, squandered his chance of citing the causes he will promote and defend during his term by personally attacking me for being critical of the Malasakit Centers even as he refused to be interpellated,” Lagman said.
He said Go’s reaction was “unprovoked” as he did not even mention the senator’s name when he asked the PCSO during its budget briefing “to provide the legal basis for its funding the Malasakit Centers and for PCSO to investigate their effectiveness.”
Lagman took offense at Go’s claims that he is anti-poor and “mema” (short for may masabi lang), or someone who just blurts out something for the sake of talking – just because the Albay congressman wanted clarity on the Malasakit Centers, which he believed was being used as a “partisan tool.”
“Paucity of merit and reason cannot be concealed by unparliamentary language and malevolent innuendoes,” Lagman said.
The Malasakit Centers are a pet project of Go, who was the longtime aide of President Rodrigo Duterte before he ran and won for senator in the May polls. The centers are part of the Individual Medical Assistance Program charity program which received P8.68 billion in 2018 from PCSO’s net charity fund.
In the lead-up to the 2019 campaign period, Malasakit Centers displayed large posters of the face of Go, who was present whenever a new center was opened across the country. The Comelec later ordered the Department of Health (DOH) to take down these posters after citizens complained that government funds were being used to promote Go’s senatorial candidacy.
In his speech on Tuesday, August 27, Go accused Lagman of “not reviewing” his facts before talking, and said that Albay is among the top beneficiaries of the centers’ services.
On the contrary, Lagman said on Wednesday: “The allegations against me by Go are completely unfounded and contrived….I always talk sense and my statements are well studied and anchored on facts.”
Lagman cited complaints he received from his constituents that representatives of PCSO, the DOH, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development did not regularly man the Malasakit Centers allegedly for lack of personnel.
“Contrary to the repeated pronouncements of Go that the Malasakit Centers are ‘one-stop shops’ for post-confinement financial assistance, they are mere outlets for referral to the main local offices of the participating agencies where the beneficiaries have to just the same queue in long lines because the representatives in the centers do not have the authority nor discretion to make assessments either for partial or full payment of hospital bill balances,” said Lagman.
He maintained that he had “always been a pro-poor legislator long before the advent of the Malasakit Centers.
“My legislative performance and accomplishments speak of my advocacies for the disadvantaged and marginalized,” the congressman added.
Lagman also disputed Go’s claim that his constituents were required to go to his house to get referrrals for financial assistance. “Ever since they invariably approach my staff in my congressional and district offices,” he said. – Rappler.com