Secretary Bong Go to attend Senate probe of P16-B frigate deal

President Duterte with his aide Christopher "Bong" Go behind him. Malacañang photograph.

MANILA – The Senate begins on Monday, Feb. 19, its probe into the alleged controversies surrounding the PHP18-billion acquisition of two Philippine Navy frigates, with at least five members of the Cabinet expected to attend and shed light on the controversy.

The investigation by the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, headed by Senator Gregorio Honasan, as well as the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act, seeks to determine whether the acquisition of the combat ships “promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws”.

The investigation was initiated by opposition lawmakers in the Senate — Minority Leader Franklin Drilon along with Senators Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima, and Antonio Trillanes IV —through Resolution No. 584.

It was filed in the wake of allegations that Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go endorsed a letter to the defense department regarding the project.

On Sunday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque expressed optimism that Go’s participation in the Senate probe will end speculation of the latter’s alleged involvement in the controversial deal.

Together with Go, Roque confirmed his attendance and of Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and another Cabinet member.

“Expect Secretary Go to tell all, and as instructed by the President, he would likely demand for an open and transparent Senate inquiry to show that he — and the administration — has nothing to hide as he would squarely answer questions, in full view of the public,” Roque said in a statement.

Go was alleged by some quarters to have intervened in the FAP contract worth PHP16 billion, including its weapon systems and munitions. He earlier denied the allegation, saying he was unfairly dragged into the mess.

Malacanang and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana have also cleared Go of the accusations, reiterating that allegations hurled against him are “untrue and unfounded.”

Navy chief: Senate probe will surface truth

Meanwhile, the Navy’s Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Robert Empedrad said he is ready for the Senate hearing, and does not see any problem with that. In fact, the inquiry could finally surface the truth about the controversy, and show there was no anomaly in the purchase of two frigates from South Korea.

He stressed that no one interfered with the decisions involved in buying the warship.

“Very good; at least the truth will come out in the Senate,” said Empedrad. “Walang anomalya [there is no anomaly], there is no intervention,” he stressed.

Roque insists that the project was completed during the term of then President Benigno Aquino III and was just signed on October 24, 2016 during the Duterte administration.

“It was the Aquino administration which chose Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) as supplier of the two frigates, including the supply of the boat, the navigation, the communications, and the combat management systems (CMS),” Roque said.
“It was also during the previous administration that Hyundai was declared the responsive bidder and awarded the two frigates, including the CMS,” he added.

But what was the root of the controversy and how was Go’s name dragged into it?

The Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) is one of the key pieces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program, as it seeks to provide the country with the capability to deal with air, surface and sub-surface threats.

It will be armed with a variety of missiles and guns capable of defeating such threats.

The acquisition of the two frigates is widely seen as the first step to provide the Philippine Navy with modern and capable warships to protect the country’s vast maritime territories.