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DOCUMENTS: How Bong Go is linked thrice to frigates deal

Carmela Fonbuena
The big-ticket modernization project of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is embroiled in controversy following the ouster of former Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado in December 2017

WORKSHOPS. Meetings between the Philippine Navy and winning bidder Heavy Hyundai Industries. Sourced photo

MANILA, Philippines – At least 3 documents link Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go to the P15.7-billion frigates deal. (READ: Bong Go intervenes in P15.5-B project to acquire PH warships)

They include the following:

  • a Post-it Note on a white paper endorsing a supplier of the Combat Management System (CMS) that was to be installed in the ships
  • a letter inviting the Navy officer in charge of the project to a meeting in Malacañang about the CMS selection
  • a report submitted by the same Navy officer addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte and Go himself

These documents were obtained by Rappler from a source privy to details of the contract and discussions between the Department of National Defense (DND), Philippine Navy, and winning bidder Heavy Hyundai Industries (HHI).

The big-ticket modernization project of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was embroiled in controversy following the ouster of former Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, who was accused of “insubordination” over the project. 

He was unceremoniously relieved in December 2017 after supposedly disregarding directives from the DND to allow the winning bidder HHI to select the supplier of the Combat Management System of the ships. (Q&A: Ousted PH Navy chief Ronald Mercado on the warships deal)

Mercado, citing a recommendation of the Navy’s Technical Working Group, maintained that the chosen supplier – Hanwha – didn’t meet the technical specifications provided in the contract. The DND claimed otherwise. (READ: Ousted PH Navy chief wanted ‘proven technology’ for warships

Go denied any knowledge about the project. He initially told Rappler someone might have been using his name. 

The Senate is scheduled to begin its probe into the frigates deal at 9:30 am Monday, February 19. All camps welcomed the probe to shed light on the controversy.

I. January 12, 2017. Post-it note on a white paper

POST-IT NOTE. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana asks former Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado to respond to issues raised by Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go about the P15.7-billion project to acquire Philippine warships. Screenshot of a sourced document

The first document was dated January 12, 2017. While the DND and the Philippine Navy were debating the selection of the CMS last year, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana instructed Mercado to rebut a white paper endorsing Hanwha Systems as supplier of the ships’ CMS. 

The instructions were written by Lorenzana on a Post-it note attached to the white paper. Lorenzana confirmed his handwriting amid the controversy that erupted in January 2018, but he said he had forgotten about the document. He said he must have wrongfully assumed that the white paper came from Go. (READ: Lorenzana: White paper came from Malacañang, not Bong Go)

Lorenzana said Go never intervened in the project. But he confirmed that the white paper was handed to him in Malacañang.

II. January 18, 2017. Undersecretary in Go’s office calls for a Malacañang meeting

PALACE MEETING. An Undersecretary in the office of Special Assistant to the President Christopher 'Bong' Go arranges a meeting with then project officer Commodore Robert Empedrad to discuss the selection of the Combat Management System that will be installed in the frigates. Screenshot of a sourced document

An undersecretary in the office of Go, lawyer Chris Lao, wrote a letter dated January 18, 2017 to the Navy officer in charge of the project – then Commodore Robert Empedrad – to attend a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the CMS selection. 

The meeting was supposed to have happened on January 20, 2017. 

Lao confirmed writing the letter to arrange the meeting in Malacañang. (READ: Undersecretary in Bong Go’s office confirms letter on frigate deal)

Mercado himself said the presidential aide never approached him personally about the frigates project. It was Empedrad who was contacted by Malacañang. 

It was Empedrad who replaced Mercado as chief of the Philippine Navy.

III. January 23 report to President Rodrigo Duterte and Go

REPORT TO DUTERTE. The Navy official in charge of the frigates project submits a written report to President Rodrigo Duterte and Special Assistant to the President Christopher 'Bong' Go. Screenshot of a sourced document

In a written report dated January 23, 2017, Empedrad explained the position of the Philippine Navy on the selection of the CMS that would be installed in the ships. 

The written report was addressed to the President and Go. – Rappler.com