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Malacañang claims Rappler reported Bong Go story out of spite

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday, January 18, accused Rappler of reporting on the controversies surrounding a P15.5-billion Philippine Navy frigate project just to get back at the government after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked its license.

To support the claim, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque falsely claimed that only Rappler picked up the story on the alleged intervention of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go in the project.

"This allegation against Special [Assistant] to the President Bong Go appears to be defense by way of an offense,"  Roque said on Thursday.

"This allegation came out immediatey after the decision of the SEC declaring that Rappler Inc and Rappler [Holdings Inc] violated the ownership rules of the Constitution on mass media companies," he added.

However, Rappler reporter Carmela Fonbuena, author of the investigative story, began looking into the project since Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado was relieved from his post as Navy chief back in December 2017, or a few weeks before the story was published.

Mercado had reportedly tried to stand up to the Department of National Defense (DND) over the implementation of the frigates deal, one of the two big-ticket modernization projects of the Armed Forces, with a price tag of P15.5 billion.

The DND conducts the bidding process for the Navy, which is the end user. Mercado reportedly wanted to make sure that the Navy's specifications were followed.

South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries won the bid to build the two warships. But the contention was over the Combat Management System (CMS) that will be installed in the ships.

Fonbuena's story was published on Tuesday afternoon, January 16, the day after the SEC ruling was made public. Rappler had to wait for Go's response before releasing the story.

Only Rappler published story?

Roque also claimed in the press conference that "only" Rappler came out with the article on Go's alleged involvement in the frigates deal.

He failed to mention that the Philippine Daily Inquirer also published a similar story, using the same documents, a day ahead of Rappler.

Inquirer reporter Nikko Dizon's story, "Palace had special interest in Navy's selection of weapons system supplier," was published at 9:31 pm on January 15.

While it did not have Go's name in the headline, the story also mentioned the post-it note written by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana which states that the white paper recommending a supplier was handed to him by Go.

Lorenzana later confirmed he wrote the post-it note but said he wrongly "assumed" that the white paper came from Go. He said the document "came" to him while he was in Malacañang, but the defense chief could not recall who handed it to him.

In 3 consecutive Palace briefings, Roque had tried to dispute Rappler's and Inquirer's story by insisting that Go could not have intervened with the project because it was already awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries during the Aquino administration.

He refuses to acknowledge that the issue is not on the contract with HHI itself but on the selection of a secondary supplier of the Combat Management System, which has yet been done.

Roque then claimed Rappler had "peddled fake news."

President Rodrigo Duterte came to Go's defense, announcing in a public interview that he would fire Go if Rappler could prove he intervened in the selection of a CMS supplier. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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