Palace: ‘Very clear’ Bong Go did not intervene in frigate deal

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2018 02:49 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2018 09:09 PM

Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence Go answers queries at the Senate defense and security hearing on the Frigate Acquisition Project in Pasay City on February 19, 2018. Secretary Go said that the project was done during the Aquino administration. Richard Madelo, Malacanang Photo

MANILA (UPDATE) - Malacañang on Monday said it is “very clear” that Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go did not intervene in the frigate project of the Philippine Navy.

Go faced a Senate inquiry Monday to answer allegations that he intervened in the selection of the combat management system (CMS) for the 2 frigates to be bought by the Philippines from South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).

During the hearing, former Navy flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado again cleared Go, saying President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted aide “never approached me to inquire about the frigate acquisition project, neither did he make any form of communication to influence my decision making.”

In a news conference in Malacañang, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said: “It’s very clear that no less than former FOIC Mercado cleared SAP Go from any involvement in this frigate deal.”

“The primary intention of this hearing was to determine if there was any intervention from SAP Go, and I think it’s very clear that there was no such intervention on the part of SAP Go.”

Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer had reported that Go supposedly gave Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in January 2017 a white paper endorsing Hanwha to provide the CMS and criticizing the Navy’s preferred provider, Thales Tacticos.

Both Duterte and Go denied the allegation, with the latter saying he will quit his post if proven guilty.

During the hearing, Go slammed Rappler and Inquirer, saying their reports presumed irregularities in his acts.

“He (Mercado) affirmed before the Senate that SAP Go has not had any opportunity to communicate with him (Go) at any time at all on this frigate deal, which leads us to the question: Where did two media outlets get [the] info that SAP Go intervened?” Roque asked.

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 Hyundai Heavy Industries in August 2016.

Controversy, however, marred the big-ticket project after it was reported that Go, who also supervises the Presidential Management Staff, intervened in the selection of the CMS for the two frigates.

Go allegedly favored another South Korean firm, Hanwha Systems, to provide the CMS for the warships despite Mercado’s preference for Thales Tacticos’ CMS. The President’s trusted aide has denied this allegation.

Go said his office merely “endorsed” the “complaint” stated in the white paper.

The act, said Go, was “a mere routinary endorsement which is one of the thousands of complaints we endorse as part of PRRD's (Duterte's) agenda to open up the gates and ears of Malacañang to all complaints against public officials and against the bureaucracy.”

Mercado, for his part, denied he favored Thales Tacticos, explaining that additional requirements in the frigate contract resulted in Tacticos being left as the only qualified CMS provider.

“We were left with no recourse but to go to the other option offered,” Mercado said, referring to Tacticos.

He said he pushed for the selection of Tacticos as the Navy project management raised concerns that problems may later arise if the technical specifications in the updated contract are not met.

Mercado added there was confusion on whether the additional specification which Hanwha could not meet was mandatory.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Hanwha and Thales Tacticos were both qualified to provide the frigates’ CMS. He, however, said HHI told the Philippine government it would need to shell out $14 million for Thales Tacticos’ CMS, even if the bidding process was already done.

The brand new frigates are supposed to become the Navy’s flagships, replacing the secondhand former US Coast Guard cutter BRP Gregorio del Pilar.