MANILA - The Duterte administration had the option to review and, if needed, back out from a controversial P15.7-billion Navy warship deal, according to former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Gazmin said the deal was initiated during the Aquino administration but he did not approve any award to avoid a midnight deal since it was very near the 2016 polls.
This gave his successor, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a free hand on deciding whether or not to pursue the contract, said Gazmin during a Senate inquiry Monday.
"He had the option because he had the time to review the project," Gazmin said.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno agreed with Gazmin's statement.
For his part, Lorenzana said he had a meeting with his predecessor who told him to pursue the project since everything is already in place.
"Itong frigate na binibili, sabi niya, 'Ipagpatuloy mo na lang. Hindi na namin tinapos kasi baka mag-midnight kuwan 'yan, signing. I asked my legal team to go over it. Kaya natagalan 'yan," he said.
"Sabi ko, 'Can we defend this in Plaza Miranda?' Sabi nila, 'Oo sir, puwede 'yan.' That's why in August, I signed the notice of award, two months later, I signed the contract," he added.
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary earlier revealed that Hyundai Heavy Industries, which bagged the contract for the frigate deal, was banned from bidding in South Korea due to bribery accusations.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the officials under the Aquino administration should be investigated for "giving the contract" to Hyundai Heavy Industries.
It was Lorenzana who signed the notice of award and the contract, but Roque said the Duterte administration merely performed a ministerial function when the documents were signed.
Lorenzana said the Duterte administration was not aware that the Korean firm tapped to supply the Navy warships had been banned by Seoul from participating in public projects.
"We did not know about this blacklisting. We just presumed that the previous...did their due diligence. We're just continuing their job," he said.
The Philippines will nonetheless pursue the contract with Hyundai, said Lorenzana, who expects the company to deliver the first frigate in 2020.