Senator Loren Legarda on Monday said that it was very clear that Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go did not intervene in the controversial Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) of the Philippine Navy and his appearance in the Senate is just a waste of time.
“Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I think we are wasting the time of Sec. Bong Go sitting here because it’s very clear, wala naman siyang kinalaman dito (He is involved in this matter.),” she said during the Senate investigation into the PHP 18-billion warship deal by the Committee on National Defense and Security.
“I am not pre-judging it. All I’m saying is that … I am calling a spade a spade,” Legarda said.
The FAP is one of the key pieces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program, as it seeks to provide the country with the capability to deal with air, surface and sub-surface threats.
The PHP18-billion warship deal, including the weapon systems and munitions, was initiated in June 2013 and was practically completed during the time President Benigno S. Aquino III.
The contract, won by Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd (HHI), was signed only on September 2016 after President Rodrigo Duterte came into power.
However, the project was stalled in its final stages due to a contract dispute between the Navy and HHI arose over the choice of who should provide the critical combat management system (CMS) to be installed on the frigates.
Go’s name was dragged into the controversy after being accused by opposition lawmakers of “intervening” in the selection process.
This was after the Philippine Daily Inquirer and online news outlet Rappler claimed that Go allegedly gave Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana a white paper endorsing one of the contending suppliers for the CMS.
Lorenzana attached a note to the unsigned document saying it came from Go and asked then Navy chief Ronald Mercado “to go over it and prepare a report/rebuttal” to be submitted to the President.
Go denied giving the document to Lorenzana, which the latter confirmed.
All key players in the project also denied that Go intervened in the project
Legarda virtually debunked the allegations against the Palace official and defended the note issued by Lorenzana.
“I’ve done my homework, I’ve read all documents and all I see is this handwritten message and it’s a pro forma request of Secretary Lorenzana to look into it,” she said.
“Don’t we all do that: ‘can you look into it, give me complete staff work?’ Right? So we are wasting the time of people who should be working on other matters,” Legarda stressed.
She added that while she fully supports the FAP and the AFP’s modernization program, authorities involved in the process must not be disparaged just because they are doing their jobs.
“I support the Navy and its acquisition of hardware, the AFP modernization program and the faithful implementation of the Procurement Act, but also respecting the jobs and tasks of people and not casting aspersion on those who are simply doing their job in government,” Legarda said.
Nevertheless, Legarda said that the investigation should still continue to look into the bigger picture: to let everybody understand where the taxpayer’s money go and to highlight the importance of acquiring the frigates in protecting the country’s sovereignty.
The investigation, initiated by opposition lawmakers in the Senate through Resolution No. 584, seeks to determine whether the acquisition of the combat ships “promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws.” (PNA)