Palace welcomes probe into P15.7-B Navy frigate project

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 19 2018 03:43 PM

Relieved Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado seen here with President Rodrigo Duterte, his top aide Bong Go and other military officials at the Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) in Davao del Sur following the ship's commissioning during the 119th Anniversary of the Philippine Navy at the Sasa Wharf in Davao City on May 31, 2017. Malacañang Photo

MANILA - Malacañang on Friday said it welcomes the possible Senate probe into the P15.7 billion frigate acquisition project of the Philippine Navy, where President Rodrigo Duterte’s top aide, Christopher “Bong” Go, was alleged to have intervened.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace welcomes the probe, especially if it will “determine if the Aquino government committed any anomalies in the bidding.”

The frigate acquisition project was started during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III and continued under the Duterte administration, which signed the notice of award to winning bidder, South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries, last August 18, 2016.

Controversy, however, marred the big-ticket project after it was reported that Go, who serves as the Special Assistant to the President and chief of the Presidential Management Staff, intervened in the selection of the combat management systems (CMS) for the two frigates.

Senators from the minority bloc have filed Resolution No. 584 asking the Senate committee on national defense and security and the Congressional oversight committee on the AFP Modernization Act to probe the allegations and get updates on the contract.

Roque said the Palace is confident that Go "can stand his ground that he did not intervene."

Go has issued denials to allegations that he had special interests in the selection of the CMS for the ships.

He also told reporters in a text message that he would be willing to attend the Senate probe. “Oo, dadalo ako!” he said. 

Duterte himself had come to the defense of his top aide, slamming news website Rappler for its report that cited documents supposedly showing Go's intervention in the selection of the CMS for the Navy’s ships.

Rappler and Philippine Daily Inquirer had reported that Go supposedly gave Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in January 2017 a white paper endorsing another South Korean company, Hanwha, 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 then Navy Chief Ronald Joseph 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 and delayed the frigate project, culminating in the firing of then Navy chief Mercado, who preferred the Dutch CMS.

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

"I questioned his intention behind his fixation with one specific company for the combat management system (CMS) of the frigate acquisition project," Lorenzana said in an interview last month.

Mercado has since been replaced by Empedrad as Navy flag officer in command.