Go defends past presidents bill: ‘Once a president, always a president’

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has defended the need to pass the proposed law that seeks to accord previous presidents of the Philippines additional benefits and privileges even after they have stepped down from power.

Go said previous presidents of the country are still expected to carry out obligations notwithstanding the end of their term.

“Alam n’yo po, ang isang presidente po kapag nagtapos ang kanyang termino, ay considered na wala na siyang trabaho. Pero (sa totoo lang), kahit tapos na ang kanilang termino, hindi po nagtatapos ang kanilang trabaho at pagseserbisyo (You know, when a president ends his term, it is considered that he no longer has a job. But in reality, even though their term is over, their work and service does not end),” Go said during a television interview on Tuesday, February 7.

“Once you are a president, you will always be a president,” he also stressed.

Since former presidents are expected to perform post-presidential duties such as meeting with foreign and local dignitaries, attending public events or other social engagements, and even entertaining those seeking their assistance or advice, these duties often require them to employ the services of personal staff and maintain their own offices.

“At meron pong mga ambassador, mga dignitaries na gustong mag-courtesy call sa kanila. Isipin n’yo po, dating presidente, mabibigla ka wala ka man lang ni isang staff po na mag-aasikaso (And there are ambassadors, dignitaries who want to make a courtesy call on them. Think about it, former president, you will be surprised that you don't even have a staff to take care of you),” he explained.

Go filed Senate Bill No. 1784 or the proposed “Former Presidents Benefits Act of 2023” last January 26, together with senators Mark Villar, Francis Tolentino, and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

Dela Rosa echoed Go’s belief saying “it’s not too much” to provide a little bit of convenience to those who once served as the country’s Chief Executive.

The bill, he said, seeks to provide the former presidents at least two to four additional staff. This, he said, will have little impact on the national budget.

“Konting convenience lang naman yun...makapagbigay tayo ng comfort at convenience sa isang tao na nagbigay serbisyo sa ating bansa (It's just a little convenience... we can provide comfort and convenience to a person who has given service to our country),” Dela Rosa said.

If enacted into law, all former presidents shall be entitled to additional benefits and privileges, such as personal security and protection, adequate staff provided by the Office of the President, and suitable office space, among others.

The bill also institutionalizes the tradition of assigning Presidential Security Group (PSG) members to guard the former presidents and also give the ex-leaders the right to choose the head of their own security team.

Aside from these benefits, the measure also seeks to provide the former presidents’ immediate family security protection in order to thwart any attempt to harm them even after leaving public office.

“Ngayon, kung saka-sakaling pumasa po ito, bigyan man lang sila ng dignidad ng kanilang pagiging former president, bigyan man lang sila kahit lima na staff. At saka ‘yung security po na maisabatas na para meron silang permanenteng security for the remainder of their life (Now, if this passes, at least give them the dignity of being a former president, at least give them five staff. And then the security that can be enacted so that they have permanent security for the remainder of their lives),” Go explained.

Go pointed out that other countries have also provided such benefits to their former leaders.

Because of their significant contributions and continuing vital role in society even after their respective terms, Go, former president Rodrigo Duterte’s close aide, said it is only fitting to provide former presidents with additional benefits for the remainder of their lives as a way to recognize their service to the country.

Go cited the example of former Japan Prime Minister Abe who was assassinated.

“Huwag tayong maging kumpyansa dahil iisa lang po ang ating buhay (Let's not be confident because we only have one life),” explained Go.

In some countries, Go said free travel and medical services, higher amount of lifelong pension, among others, are provided to former presidents.

Former past presidents in the United States who have not been removed from office are entitled to some staff, medical treatment, health insurance, a pension, office expenditures, and protection provided by the Secret Service.

Go, at the same time said he is optimistic that the proposed legislation will be supported by fellow lawmakers.

As of now, only three former presidents stand to benefit from the proposed law: former presidents Joseph Estrada, Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Duterte.