Duterte rejects executive session for Bong Go in frigate hearing

Pia Ranada
Duterte rejects executive session for Bong Go in frigate hearing
President Rodrigo Duterte wants his aide to participate in an 'open and transparent' public hearing about the P15.5-billion warships project

MANILA, Philippines – Though it was suggested that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go speak in a closed-door executive session during the planned Senate hearing on the Navy frigates controversy, President Rodrigo Duterte demanded his aide to speak in an “open and transparent” hearing.

Sinabi sa kanya, na…sige lang, tutal executive session. Sabi ko: ‘Yan ang huwag mong gawin, Bong. Demand an open and transparent public hearing,” said Duterte on Friday, February 9.

(He was told, “It’s okay, anyway it’s an executive session.” I said: “Don’t do it, Bong. Demand an open and transparent public hearing.”)

Duterte made the statement at the Manila Times Business Forum in Davao City on Friday night.

Huwag kang pumayag ng secret-secret meeting diyan. Harap-harapan (Don’t agree to a secret meeting. It should be face-to-face),” he added. 

The President said it would be to someone’s “sorrow” if the hearing is made public. He implied that more needs to be revealed about the two possible suppliers for the critical Combat Management System (CMS) of the Navy ships.

“It may be to their sorrow – lalabas talaga ‘yan diyan kung bakit nagku-compete silang dalawa (it will really come out why the two are competing),” he said. 

Duterte said it was the “losing bidder” who lodged a complaint with Malacañang about the P15.5-billion frigate project.

Bong Go’s name was supposedly used because the losing bidder wanted Malacañang to “endorse” their complaint.

“He’s complaining kasi bakit ‘yung winning, bakit hanggang ngayon walang order of delivery (because why is there no order of delivery until now for the winning bidder)?” said Duterte. 

Quarrel

The President said Lorenzana and sacked Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado had a “quarrel” over which company should supply the CMS.

Kasi nga nag-away si Mercado pati si Lorenzana. Gusto ni Mercado ‘yung Hyundai, ‘yung original na Hyundai na kanyang – gusto ni Mercado, palitan ng iba. Ayaw ni Lorenzana kasi matagal na,” said Duterte.

(Mercado and Lorenzano had a fight. Mercado wanted to change the supplier from the original Hyundai. Lorenzana didn’t want because it was decided long ago.)

Duterte was referring to the debate on the fine print that winning bidder Heavy Hyundai Industries added in its contract with the Navy to build the two frigates.

Hyundai claimed “sole right” to choose the maker of the system and said it may “consider” the preferences of the Navy only if they are “commercially competitive.” (READ: Bribery scandal hounds Korean firm tapped for PH Navy warships)

Hyundai decided to buy the CMS from fellow South Korean company Hanwha Systems. The Navy rejected the choice on the ground that its CMS does not comply with the technical specifications agreed upon in the contract. The Navy’s preferred supplier is Tacticos Thales of the Netherlands.

Duterte insisted that Go never read the white paper recommending Hanwha Systems.

Hindi naman talaga niya nakita ‘yung papel. Kaya diretso man. Kasi military-military. Bakit pa siya makaalam? Diretso na ‘yan doon to comment (He didn’t see the paper. It went straight, because it’s from military to military. Why would he intervene? It goes straight to them for comment),” said the President.

A marginal note on the white paper, written by Lorenzana, indicated that Go handed the document to him. Lorenzana confirmed it was his note but said it was not Go who gave him the document.

The defense chief had claimed he had wrongly “assumed” it was Go  so he wrote the presidential aide’s name on the note. But Lorenzana said the document was given to him in Malacañang, but he could not recall who handed it to him.

Other than the note, Go’s undersecretary at the time, Christopher Lloyd Lao, arranged a meeting about the CMS supplier with the head of the frigates project in the Navy, Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad.

Empedrad is now Navy chief after Mercado was sacked due to “insubordination.” – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.