Tuesday July 17, 2018

Sacked Navy chief clears Bong Go in warship deal

THE former commander of the Philippine Navy on Saturday, January 20, cleared the name of Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, in connection with the questionable P15.7-billion frigate acquisition deal.

Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado denied that Go meddled in the procurement of Combat Management System (CMS) for the two warships.

Mercado, who was dismissed in December 2017 for "insubordination," said Go nor President Rodrigo Duterte "never intervened" in the selection of the CMS supplier.

"It never happened. Not in any moment, either si Sec Bong Go, much more si President, asking me about the frigate. It did not happen," Mercado said in an interview with government-owned dzRB.

"My communication line regarding the frigate [deal was only] going to general headquarters and the DND (Department of National Defense). It never reached other offices. My statement is merely factual because they never talked to me about the frigate," the former Navy chief added.

Controversy about the multibillion-peso frigate deal hounded Go after a marginal note from DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stated Duterte's chief aide's preference on South Korean supplier for CMS, Hanwha Thales.

On January 17, Lorenzana confirmed that he wrote the note but clarified that he merely assumed that Go was the one who provided him a white paper endorsing Hanwha Thales for the acquisition of the warships' weapons systems.

"It (white paper) was given to me by Bong Go. I assumed it came from him. It did not come from him personally. But it came to me while I was in Malacañang," the Defense Secretary said.

Mercado believed Go could not get involved in the Philippine Navy's frigate program because the issues surrounding it are "very technical."

"The issues on frigate [are] very technical. I am not underestimating anyone but if Sec. Bong Go is going to ask me about it, perhaps, I have to sit down with him for the whole day to talk about the technical issues. And even if it's the President, [the same thing will happen]," he said.

The controversial project caught the attention of opposition senators, prompting them to call for a Senate probe to "determine whether or not such acquisition promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws."
Go on Friday, January 19, said he would to attend the impending investigation, if the Senate summons him.

Mercado likewise said that if invited, he would grace the Senate inquiry to present his side.

"I am very willing to face [the Senate investigation] and present the side of the Philippine Navy Project Management Team and my side regarding our decision concerning the frigate [project]," Mercado said. (SunStar Philippines)