MANILA (UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said the government merely addressed the complaint of South Korean firm Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) regarding the Philippine Navy’s P15.7-billion frigate system deal.
The issue is enmeshed in controversy involving the President's most trusted aide, Christopher “Bong” Go.
Go has been accused of intervening in the selection of the combat management system (CMS) for the two HHI-built frigates of the Philippine Navy.
"That is what happened with that Korean. He was complaining that he was still not allowed to deliver there --- to perfect the contract about the frigate," Duterte said in a speech during the induction of the new board of directors of the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce Phils. Inc. in Malacañang.
"He's a subject of a hearing in Congress for nothing," he added.
The allegation that Go intervened in the selection of the CMS started after it was reported that he forwarded a white paper from HHI to the Department of National Defense.
The white paper said another South Korean firm, Hanwha Systems, would be a better choice as CMS provider than Dutch firm Thales Tacticos.
Go, however, denied the allegation that he intervened in the transaction. He said during Monday’s hearing that he merely endorsed the complaint to the DND.
In a speech in Malacañang on Tuesday, Duterte backed Go’s assertion, saying it is his government’s duty to hear the complaints of businessmen.
“If you have a complaint regarding corruption, let me know anytime of the day and I will give you access. I will give you the time and space to talk to you,” Duterte said.
“That is what happened with that Korean [firm]. He was complaining that he was still not allowed to deliver, perfect the contract about the frigate.”
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 HHI 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.
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 will need to shell out $14 million for Thales Tacticos’ CMS.
The Thales Tacticos CMS was the preferred CMS of the Philippine Navy’s top brass, including former flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado and his successor, Robert Empedrad.
The brand new frigates are supposed to become the Navy’s flagships, replacing the secondhand former US Coast Guard cutter BRP Gregorio del Pilar.
Duterte, meanwhile, urged Indian businessmen to complain about incidents of corruption.
"Because we really --- and I have been saying, you can go here and complain and I will meet you and I will have that officer called in front of you and we will hang him in this chandelier," he told them.
He vowed to eliminate red tape and improve ease of doing business.
Duterte also encouraged Indian businessmen to pay proper taxes.
"You pay the right taxes, get your receipt and do not worry about anybody auditing you or making an accounting on you. If somebody goes there on the pretext of examining you, open it up. As long as you pay the right taxes, just the exact price, no more no less, then you are freed of any interventions or trouble. That is the assurance that I will give you," he said. --With reports from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News