Palace probe clears Bong Go of alleged 'intervention' in Navy project

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 18 2018 01:45 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2018 03:29 PM

MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday said an investigation has cleared Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go of allegations that he had intervened in a multi-billion Navy project.

“An investigation has been conducted and it has been found that the allegations of Rappler are untrue and unfounded,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said. 

He was making reference to news website Rappler’s report alleging that Go had “intervened” in the selection of the combat management system (CMS) for P15.7-billion frigates being procured for the Philippine Navy.

Roque said the Rappler story was the news site’s “defense by way of offense,” noting how it was published in the wake of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to revoke its incorporation papers.

When asked whether he sees a destabilization plot behind the allegations against Go, Roque said only Rappler came out with the story, 

“Rappler lang naman po ang naglabas niyan, so better ask Rappler. They would know better,” Roque said.

Rappler's Palace reporter Pia Ranada debunked Roque’s latest statement, saying “this is fake news. Inquirer wrote a similar story.”

Aside from Rappler, the Philippine Daily Inquirer also ran the story, but President Rodrigo Duterte only vented his ire on the news website, citing the way its headline was crafted.

Roque said Duterte dared Rappler to come up with evidence to back up its story, but the website supposedly failed to do so.

He said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former Navy chief Ronald Joseph Mercado have since absolved Go of any involvement in the selection of the CMS for the two frigates.

Go had earlier said he would quit his post if proven he had indeed intervened in the selection of the critical equipment.

“I am not privy to the frigate transaction of the DND (Department of National Defense). I have never seen the controversial document (white paper) that is alleged to have come from me, much less handed the same to [Defense Secretary Delfin] Lorenzana,” Go said in a statement on Wednesday.

“In fact, I will resign if it can be proven that I intervened,” he said.

Duterte himself had come to the defense of his top aide, slamming Rappler for its report that cited documents supposedly showing Go's intervention in the selection of the CMS for the Navy’s ships to be built by South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Rappler and Inquirer had reported that Go supposedly gave Lorenzana in January 2017 a white paper endorsing another South Korean company, Hanwha Thales, to provide the CMS for the Navy's brand new frigates.

The white paper supposedly criticized the Philippine Navy’s choice of CMS provider, Dutch firm Thales Tacticos, as it praised the capabilities of the Korean firm.

Lorenzana then reportedly gave the white paper to Mercado, with a marginal note saying the document came from Go and that a rebuttal or report must be submitted to the President addressing the concerns raised.

The Rappler report said that a week after Go gave Lorenzana the letter, the presidential aide's office sent a letter to then Frigate Project Technical Working Group chairman Commodore Robert Empedrad, inviting him to Malacañang on January 20, 2017 to discuss the CMS selection.

Go, however, said he did not know about the invitation supposedly signed by his Undersecretary Christopher Lao.

Empedrad, nevertheless, submitted a report to Malacañang on January 23, 2017 vouching for the efficiency of the Thales Tacticos CMS.

The discussion over the selection of the CMS supposedly dragged for a year, culminating in the firing of Mercado, who preferred the Dutch CMS.

Lorenzana cited Mercado’s insubordination for his decision to fire the then Navy chief.

The defense department also defended Go, saying the white paper supposedly received by Lorenzana “was handed to him at the Palace, so he assumed that it came from Sec. Go,” who is also chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).

“It should be noted that one of the tasks of the PMS includes the official routing and endorsement of documents to government agencies concerned, for appropriate action,” the Department of National Defense (DND) said in a statement Wednesday.

It also admitted that the document originated from Hanwha.

“There was neither a hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Sec. Bong Go to influence the implementation of the project. There is a contract for the FAP (frigate acquisition project) which was crafted mainly by the Philippine Navy and it will be implemented strictly to the letter,” the DND said.