AS the coming elections draw closer and closer, we at the Baguio Chronicle have elected to start a series to help familiarize the Baguio populace with the candidates seeking the highest posts that the city can vote for. In this series of articles, which we will be rolling out regularly in the lead-up to the election, we ask congressional and mayoral candidates their stances on certain issues, what they believe to be the most important issues to tackle, and what makes them fit for the post.

This is the first installment in this series. 

Incumbent Baguio Representative Marquez “Mark” Go is running for a possible third term in the House of Representatives in the coming elections. We spoke on his stance on pertinent Baguio issues, his platform, and what he believes qualifies him for the post.

 

What background qualifies him for the post?

Go has had two terms as representative for the Lone District of Baguio, but prior to coming into public service, Go speaks of a long, 21-year stint as a corporate leader in Texas Instruments Incorporated, a brief period as a professor in the University of the Philippines, and a former presidency in the Baguio chapter of the Rotary Club.

But rather than his credentials and previous work experience, Go claims that more important are three characteristics – integrity and character, competence, and compassion for the people, which he says he exhibits.

“I don’t draw strength from my position, but I draw strength from my character and competence as a leader. That is very important to me, the integrity of a person – that you’re honest, you’re not corrupt, you don’t embezzle, you don’t take bribes. In other words, no corruption allowed. We want honorable, clean and proper service,” Go says.

Go also cites competence in lawmaking, that the process be informed not only by competent and rational decision-making, but also be backed up by data and proper information.

And to round it out, Go says that it is important for a government official in such a post to have compassion for their fellow countrymen who they serve.

“You serve without any expectation in return. I ran for public office not to gain anything here, but to really make a difference, not only for myself, but for the people. I want people to respect me for what I have done, not because I have the position, because this position is only temporary,” Go says

 

What three issues would be your main priority in office, and what do you plan for these issues?

Go claims that the three primary issues he has tackled and will continue to tackle should he be voted into a third term as Baguio’s representative will be education, health, and the environment.

However, Go makes the distinction that while he is running for a seat as Baguio’s representative, his plans are larger in scale, with some of the programs and bills he touts applying on a national level.

 

On education

On education, Go is one of the sponsors and authors of Republic Act 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which provides free enrollment and waiving of fees for students in state-run universities and colleges nationwide. The bill was signed into law in 2017, in the 17th Congress, and implemented since. It also includes the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES), which provides annual funding to qualified college students in the country. Go says that in the future, he would like to expand the coverage of the TES

Go says that another pressing issue that he would like to address in the field of education, other than access to education, is job mismatch, or the incongruity between the country’s graduates’ skills and competencies earned through college education and the needs of the country’s various industries.

“We have a lot of graduates every year, hundreds of thousands every year, and yet they cannot get employed. At the same time, companies need many employees but they cannot get employed because the skills they have learned are not appropriate to the needs of the industries,” Go says.

His proposal to answer this mismatch is a bill to form a tripartite council composed of members of the government, the academe, and the private industrial sector to align educational offerings with employment opportunities. His proposal also includes establishing mentoring and career planning assistance to ensure proper employment for graduates.

Additionally, Go also wants to push for the establishment of an entrepreneurship academy to empower and encourage economic growth by having more businesses spring up and grow.

Other plans Go has mentioned but cannot be fully discussed for space concerns are the provision of incentives to encourage higher quality of students going into the field of education, connecting technical-vocational education through Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to higher education so that TESDA courses count for credits, as well as two pending bills to establish specialty arts and sports schools in Baguio. He also intends to develop a system to produce master plans for Baguio’s elementary schools, and eventually nationwide, to ensure quality facilities and appropriate development plans for each school.

 

On health

On the matter of health, Go touts his work as co-author of the Universal Health Care Law, or Republic Act No. 11223, which was signed into law in 2019. The law allocates some P70 billion a year to provide every Filipino, including overseas Filipino workers, preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care upon automatic enrollment to the government’s health insurance program. Under the law, the Philippine Health Insurance Company (PhilHealth) will have expanded coverage to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests and other diagnostic services.

Go also cites his pending work in Congress to improve the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC) by enabling an expansion of both its bed capacity and the range of services it offers. Under his pending bill, Go would see the the near-doubling of BGHMC’s bed capacity from 800 to 1500, while also procuring more advanced equipment to activate his proposed addition of 15 medical specialty centers to the BGHMC, including such services as specialized heart care,  computed tomography (CT) scan capabilities, and other advanced medical options.

Moving forward, Go’s future plans are not limited to Baguio, as he says he wants to establish a free dialysis program nationwide for the 50,000 or so dialysis patients in the country as part of his renal care bill.

The push includes a proposed “preventive” campaign to avoid citizens developing the lifestyle diseases that lead to a need for dialysis. 

“Part of the effort is to have a campaign by the Department of Health to prevent the occurrence of kidney disease, because the dialysis patients are getting younger and younger. When you’re younger, your resistance is stronger, so you don’t feel it, but when you grow older, you get hit,” Go says.

 

The program also seeks to widen availability of kidney transplants and lower costs for the procedure.

In Baguio, Go says that as part of the program, he has linked local doctors with an association of kidney specialists for nephrologist training.

 

On Environment

Go says he is pushing for a ten year blanket moratorium on tree-cutting in the city of Baguio, with the only exception being trees that pose danger to Baguio residents, but the proposal is still pending before the national government’s various committees.

He is also planning on pushing for the declaration of Baguio City as a mining-free zone in perpetuity, but acknowledges that the push might not be necessary as most mining activities in the region are outside of Baguio City.

His other plan for the environment is to establish a national mandate that would require all parents to plant two trees whenever a child is born to their family, and also mandate each high school and college graduate to plant another two trees upon graduation in the said levels of education.

“We have 1.7 million children born every year in this country. I don’t know if that increased in this pandemic. So if we will have the two trees per child, every year, we will have 3.4 million trees planted in the country. And the parents will have to ensure that the tree will grow, because there’s also sentimental value attached to it. When the child is one year old, the tree is one year old too, and when they’re 20 years old, the tree is 20,” Go says.

Meanwhile, specifically in Baguio, we asked Go how he would plan to balance the need for development in the city with the need for environmental preservation.

He says that to strike a balance, the city must be able to go for sustainable development and plan for more efficient use of space, particularly in housing to open up open space. Under his plan, the city would consolidate housing into clusters and multiple-floor structures to save space.

“What we want is to have a real program, an honest to goodness program for housing. We will put it in a way where once – for example, if there are areas where you cannot put up houses, we will keep that as open space, and that house cannot be there anymore, we will not allow that.” Go says.

Go also says that the pending Baguio – La Trinidad – Itogon – Sablan – Tuba – Tublay Development Authority (BLISTTDA) will help the city properly address its needs for environmental preservation in cooperation with its neighbors.

 

What is your stance on the development of the city public market?

Go says that he currently is still analyzing the situation and reviewing the city’s plans, but his initial reaction was that the city should put up its market on its own.

He also says that he would prefer a simpler market that is not a multi-storey megastructure if he were given his way, one which prioritizes the needs of the stakeholders and the consumers.

“Me personally, all I want is a simple market, but it will address the needs of the city. I’m personally very minimalist, so what we need is that there is space for vendors, there is open space for parking, there is a good sewage system and organized garbage pickup, and good floors going in and going out,” Go says.

 

What will your moves be to help the city bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic?

“The country cannot anymore afford to close its economy because of COVID-19. Our budget for 2022 is about P5.024 trillion, and our expected collection is only around P3 trillion,” Go says.

 

As a result, Go says that his move will be to pump the economy back into activity in Baguio by pushing business establishments to return to normal operations. He says this can be achieved by relaxing requirements for these establishments to operate, and for the land and property owners in the city to be encouraged to decrease rents to keep businesses afloat.

“The businessmen here in the city who are renting, should look at the rentals they pay. The city should see this, so they can help them, with the owners of these properties, maybe get discounts just to get the ball rolling,” Go says.

Go also says that financial assistance should be continued to ensure that residents can keep spending, ensuring that the local economy keeps being active and growing.

On the legislative level, he says that the offerings of interest-free loans to small businesses will be continued.

Go also says he will be pushing for a small amount of financial assistance for every individual nationwide, but says the likelihood of implementation will be grim under the current administration.

 

What is your stance on the BENECO conflict and how will you work against future conflicts?

Go says that the appointment of Atty. Anna Rafael as general manager of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) goes against the NEA’s own rules as written in Memorandum Circular 2017-35 and that he stands by the decision of the BENECO board of directors in their support for current general manager Melchor Licoben.

“Under Memorandum Circular 2017-35, the right and power to appoint a general manager is in the electric cooperative, in accordance with the guidelines set forth by NEA,” Go says.

He says that he will propose a bill to institutionalize the guidelines set forth by the memorandum circular into the charter of NEA itself, enshrining the electric cooperatives’ right to choose their own management into the charter.

The situation with BENECO, he says, is bigger than just Benguet, as it would set a precedent for all electric cooperatives across the country, and he says, that regardless of the courts’ decisions, he will unequivocally support the right of the electric cooperatives to choose for themselves.

 

As Baguio is a Creative City, what is your plan for the arts and cultural scene of Baguio?

Go says that while the current moves of the city such as the Ibagiw Festival and the various creative events held in the city are a step forward, they are not enough to properly support the creative scene of the city, particularly the smaller artists.

“We need to level up. If the artist is not popular yet, when you buy their work, it’s just cheap. If you’re on the level of BenCab, you have no problems, because your art, you can do it over one year and sell it for one million, and that’s okay. But the ordinary artists… not everyone can be BenCab. So how do we tap their talent, so that they can grow in a different way?”

Go says that the need for the city’s creative community is more than just art fairs and events, but instead artists in the city must be equipped with the proper skills and equipment to improve their livelihood and allow them to make a living using their arts.

He says that the artist community must be empowered to enable the production of goods at lower cost, and expand the market by making it more accessible to locals and residents instead of exclusively or majorly drawing income from tourist traffic.

 

This is the first installment of Know Your Candidate in the Baguio Chronicle. We will continue to produce more installments of this series to ensure that voters are informed of what matters to their candidates and what the candidates stand for. 

 

Continue following the Chronicle to see the rest of the articles as they come out.