MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s special assistant Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Monday maintained his innocence, saying he had nothing to do with the controversial procurement of the two P16-billion Philippine Navy frigates, the subject of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security’s inquiry.
The issue arose following news reports that Go supposedly gave Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana a “white paper” in January 2017 about the supplier of the combat management system (CMS) to be installed in the warships.
Lorenzana afterwards passed on the document to then Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, who was familiar with the procurement of the frigates, for comment in a post-it he wrote along with it: “To Admiral Mercado, Ronald, This was given to me by Bong Go. Go over it and prepare a report/rebuttal to be submitted to the Pres.”
In his speech before the Senate panel, Go said he did not interfere in the acquisition of the two frigates and in the selection of their CMS. Rather, he called himself a victim of “fake news” and “irresponsible reporting” at the hands of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Rappler, and asked the Senate to continue its hearing into fake news, calling on legislators to scrutinize the media outfits about their reports.
“Tapos na ito sa panahon ng Aquino admininstration. Walang nabago, walang binago, walang nakialam, at walang pinakialaman sa kontrata [This was already a done deal during the Aquino administration. Nothing changed or was changed, no one interfered, and nothing in the contract was touched],” said Go.
Former DND chief Voltaire Gazmin acknowledged during the Senate hearing that the procurement of the frigates was initiated during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, but he quickly added that he did not “issue any approval for awarding of the projects and other subsequent steps during the transition period” leading up to the 2016 elections.
Go continued, “Inosente at idinamay lang po ako sa isyung ito upang siraan ang administrasyon ni Pangulong Duterte [I am innocent and I was just implicated in this issue to discredit the administration of President Duterte].”
“We are being castigated for endorsing a complaint to the proper agency, a mere routinary endorsement, which is one of the thousands of complaints we endorse as part of PRRD’s agenda to open the gates and ears of Malacañang to all complaints against public officials and against the bureaucracy,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked whether it was indeed Go who had given Lorenzana a letter from Hanwha Systems, which was chosen by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries as the supplier of the combat management system to be installed in the frigates, as opposed to the Tacticos system by Thales of the Netherlands.
Lacson, quoting from the letter, said Hanwha Systems was complaining that “there was no logic” that the Philippine Navy wanted seven pieces of equipment by Thales (presumably as part of the project).
Lorenzana replied that he could not remember who handed him the document, but that he did remember finding it in a stack of paper given to him in Malacañang. He assumed it was given to him by Go, and because it was about the combat management system, Lorenzana passed it on to Mercado.
“It’s just routine to let them comment,” Lorenzana said, adding that Mercado did not get back to him regarding his request for comment.
Lacson pointed out that Lorenzana’s request for comment, particularly the use of the word “rebut,” was confusing, which Lorenzana acknowledged. If Lorenzana wanted the project to push through, why was he asking the Philippine Navy to rebut the document?
Lorenzana replied that he meant “report and comment,” and that he made an error in using the word “rebut”.
“Rebuttal pala ay kontrahin mo ang isang bagay [I realized that rebuttal means to oppose something],” he said. Rather, what he wanted from Mercado was an answer to the letter regarding what was in the contract in the first place.
Hyundai Heavy Industries was awarded the project by the Department of National Defense in August 2016, and Lorenzana confirmed that in December 2016, the South Korean company was given notice to proceed. The firm promised to deliver the ships by 2020.