MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, January 17, sought to clear Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go of intervening in the controversial P15.5-billion project to acquire two warships for the Philippine Navy.
Lorenzana made the statement in an interview with reporters on Wednesday, January 17, even as he confirmed that he wrote the marginal note pointing to Go as the source of a white paper endorsing a particular foreign supplier for the project.
On Wednesday, at the sidelines of the oral arguments on the extension of martial law in Mindanao, Lorenzana clarified that he received the white paper in Malacañang but said he could not recall who handed it to him. He said he just initially assumed that it came from Go.
The white paper endorsed a supplier that now stands to be selected to provide the critical Combat Management System (CMS) to be installed in the warships.
Referring to the marginal note on the white paper, Lorenzana said: "In this document, nakalagay (it states) it was given to me by Bong Go. I assumed it came from him. Hindi naman sa kanya galing (It did not come from him) personally. But it came to me while I was in Malacañang."
Lorenzana said he couldn't remember who gave him the document. "I can no longer remember. Hindi ko nga matandaan itong ang papel na ito unless nakita ko pangalan ko diyan. It was my handwriting. It was actually written by me in January 12, 2017. This is one year ago. Nakalimutan ko na. Hindi rin alam ni Bong Go na binigay sa akin. So ang conclusion ko dito, somebody gave it to me in Malacañang. So I assumed na galing kay Bong Go," he said.
(I can't remember this paper except when I saw my name. It was my handwriting. It was actually written by me in January 12, 2017. I've forgotten about it. Bong Go doesn't remember giving it to me either. So my conclusion is, somebody gave it to me in Malacañang. I assumed it came from Bong Go.)
Based on this supposed assumption, he said he wrote the marginal note and sent the document to former Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado.
"So I assumed. I forwarded it to Mercado, who in turn gave it to [Rear Admiral Robert] Empedrad, who was still the project management leader," Lorenzana said.
Mercado also cleared Go in a separate interview. "When I was FOIC (Flag Officer in Command), he never – with so many times we were together in many foreign navy ships – [intervened]. There was never an instance, not once that he even asked me about the frigate," he said.
Mercado admitted he was hurt by the decision to relieve him when he stood by the supplier that the Navy wanted for its ships. He refused to elaborate on the contract.
The report angered President Rodrigo Duterte, who called Rappler a fake news outlet for publishing the documents.
White paper came from Hanwha
Lorenzana said the white paper actually came from Hanwha, the supplier of the CMS that HHI wanted to install in the warships. The Navy preferred another supplier, Tacticos Thales. This debate has stalled the completion of the Critical Design Review, paperwork that needs to be completed before the construction of the ships begin.
Mercado insisted that HHI should follow technical specifications set by the Philippine Navy – meaning Tacticos Thales. DND, PN, and HHI debated this for months until Mercado was relieved in December 2017 for alleged subordination.
Lorenzana could not explain, however why Hanwah's white paper would be given to him in Malacanang. Asked if there was a meeting with Hanwha in Malacañang, he said, "No. I do not know. Somebody must have brought this there at ikinalat siguro kaya dumating sa akin. Noong makita nilang frigate – because I was the one who signed the contract – binigay sa akin. But there is no intervention here by Bong Go. In-assume ko lang na galing sa kanya."
(Somebody must have brought this there and distributed it so it reached me. When they saw that it was about the frigate – because I was the one who signed the contract – it was given to me. But there was no intervention by Bong Go. I only assumed it came from me.)
He said a separate meeting with Empedrad's in Malacañang was not with Go but with another official in his office, Undersecretary Christopher Lao of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), who is now Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board CEO and commissioner.
The PMS is under the supervision of Go. A signed letter shows that Lao arranged for Empedrad to go to Malacanang to explain the CMS selection on January 20, 2017 or about a week since Lorenzana received the white paper.
Lorenzana said he was not in that meeting and could not explain why a Navy officer would be called to a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the selection of the CMS.
Three days later, Empedrad wrote a report explaining why the navy prefers Tacticos Thales.
"Empedrad stated the preference of navy. In short, hindi rin naano yung ano nilalakad ng Hanwha. Hindi rin sila ang preference," Lorenzana said.
But HHI would still choose Hanwha against the navy's wishes. "The problem is, doon kasi sa contract, Hyundai ang may choice kung sno ang pipiliin. Pinili nila ang Hanwha. Wala na kami pakialam doon," said Lorenzana.
But under Mercado, the navy insisted that Hanwha did not comply with the technical requirements specified in the contract. – Rappler.com