There is no evidence that President Duterte’s Special Assistant Christopher “Bong” Go influenced military officials in the acquisition of two frigates from South Korea.
Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” B. Honasan II, chairman of the Senate National Defense Committee, issued the statement at the end of the six-hour public hearing on the multi-billion-peso Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program and the “fake news” about Go’s alleged interference in equipment purchase.
Honasan, however, emphasized that his committee would consolidate, process, and evaluate all the statements and documents submitted to his committee.
“We will not make any premature, sweeping conclusions,” he added.
The purchase of P15.7 billion worth of warships has been clouded by controversy after Go was accused of meddling in the selection of the combat managements system (CMS) for the two frigates.
Former Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado confirmed that Go never interfered in the Frigate Acquisition Program (FAP).
“Secretary Bong Go never approached me to inquire and neither did he make any form of communication to influence,” Mercado told the Senate.
Go blamed two media outfits for reporting “fake news” with his alleged interference in the frigate deal.
Aimed at Duterte
In his opening statement, Go said it was clear that the issue was aimed at destroying the reputation of the President.
“Perhaps this is their intention – to block the implementation of this important security program, and make sure that this administration will fail,” Go said.
“But we will not allow them to win because the truth is on our side. I am confident that the Senate will be a vehicle of truth than to be used to advance others’ self-serving interest,” he added.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar maintained there was nothing anomalous with the frigate deal, which he described as one of the “best” projects of the Navy to modernize its fleet. He lamented that the malicious report about Go’s alleged intervention “overshadowed” the importance of the country’s first ever frigate project.
“The negative effect of the malicious report released by an online entity is we have forgotten that both the Aquino administration and the Duterte administration agree that this project is one of the best and earth-shaking historical projects of the Armed Force of the Philippines and Philippine Navy,” Andanar said.
“There is really no problem in the project except for the malicious report that came out,” he added.
Former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin denied that the acquisition of the CMS happened during the Aquino administration saying the previous government did not sign the contract to avoid being accused of entering into a “midnight deal”.
the previous administration did enter with an agreement with Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the contractor for the CMS but “short of signing the contract and the notice of award.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed Gazmin’s statement. He said before he took over theDND, he and Gazmin met to discuss details of the frigate project with the latter telling himto “continue the project.”
“So I asked my legal team to look over it. That’s why it took us sometime – July, August, September…When I asked the legal team to go over it, and to make sure if it is correct in form and substance, they said it is okay,” Lorenzana told senators during the hearing.
Lorenzana said he signed the notice of award in Aug. 18, 2016, then signed the contract two months later, or on October 24, 2016. He also said he did not change anything from the terms of preference or the findings of the previous bids and awards team or the technical working group.
Asked by Sen. Escudero if Lorenzana had the option not to proceed with the contract with HHI, Gazmin said yes “because he had time to review the project.”
When also asked why navy officials did not check on the background of HHI during the post-qualification process, Flag Officer in Command Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad said they knew nothing about HHI’s pending case at the Supreme Court of Republic of Korea.
Relieved thru text
Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, former Flag Officer-in-Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy who was relieved last December “through text” for insubordination over the frigate project”vehemently” denied allegations that he was insisting to tap Netherlands-based Thales Tacticos for the ships’ combat management system (CMS) over South Korean firm Hanwha Systems.
He said it was Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the winning supplier of the frigates, who initially endorsed the Thales Tacticos in the bidding process.
Lorenzana claimed Mercado “usurped” his authority for defying orders of the DND.
He added Mercado showed a “deliberate attempt” to block the implementation of the project by insisting on choosing Thales over Hanwa for the ships’ weapon system.
He claimed Mercado even “threatened” to cancel the deal, even though Hanwha had already been found compliant with contract requirements. Mercado, likewise, supposedly prevented the Navy representatives from discussing the procurement to the South Korean firm.
“He was insisting on Tacticos, and said that he will work on the cancellation of the contract if Tacticos was not chosen,” Lorenzana said, recalling that the threat was made during a meeting of senior officers which he failed to attend. (With reports from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos and Hannah L. Torregoza)