Senate to probe P15.5-B PH warships project

Camille Elemia

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Senate to probe P15.5-B PH warships project
(UPDATED) It remains unclear to date if Special Assistant to the President Bong Go would be invited to the Senate hearing

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate is set to investigate the P15.5-billion Philippine warships deal, amid allegations that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go intervened in the project.

The minority bloc filed Senate Resolution 584 on January 16, directing the Senate committee on national defense and security and the congressional oversight committee on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act to conduct an inquiry on the status of its implementation, including the acquisition of the two Philippine Navy frigates.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Leila de Lima signed the resolution.

In calling for an investigation, the Senate opposition said the committees should “determine whether or not such acquisition promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws.”

When asked, the office of Senator Gregorio Honasan – chair of the Senate committee – said  it would push through with the probe and was fixing the schedule.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III also said they would investigate the deal. “Yes, [the] resolution is referred already to the committee,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, however, is against it.

“Waste of time. We are so busy….Wala naman ‘yun eh (It’s nothing). They are making a mountain out of a molehill,” Sotto said.

It remains unclear as of posting if Go would be invited to the hearing.

The Department of National Defense welcomed the investigation.

“The Department of National Defense  welcomes the plan of the Senate to conduct an investigation on the Frigate Acquisition Project. In fact, we have long been waiting for the opportunity to shed light on this issue so that the truth will finally be known,”  DND Spokesperson Director Arsenio Andolong said in a statement.

Malacañang’s role?

Go, President Rodrigo Duterte’s closest aide, is alleged to have intervened in the selection of the supplier for the Combat Management Systems (CMS), likened to a brain of a ship, of the two Navy frigates.

The contract was awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI). The parts and systems of the ship, including the critical CMS however, are to be provided by a secondary supplier that is supposed to be chosen based on the technical specifications of the contract.

The project is in an early stage – the Critical Design Review (CDR) – which is expected to list down, among others, the secondary suppliers.

The CDR needs to be approved by the Navy before the actual work to build the ship begins.

That is where they stalled. The Department of National Defense (DND), HHI, and Navy had been debating the CMS.

The Navy has not yet approved the CDR, meaning construction of the ships cannot start.

Go allegedly intervened by sending a white paper to the DND expressing preference for Hanwha Thales, a South Korean company, as the supplier for the CMS.

In January last year, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gave the white paper to then Navy Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, who insisted on the Navy’s position that they choose Tacticos Thales of the Netherlands because of its “proven technology.” (READ: Ousted PH Navy fhied wanted ‘proven technology’ for warships)

Barely a week after the white paper was sent to Mercado, Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, then with the Presidential Management Staff under Go, arranged a meeting with the Navy team in charge of the project to discuss the selection of the CMS supplier. (READ: [EXCLUSIVE] Undersecretary in Bong Go’s office confirms letter on frigate deal)

Mercado was relieved from his post mid-December 2017.

Go issued a blanket denial of the allegations, saying he never directly or indirectly intervened in the project.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, said Go’s office does relay papers of reference and other documents to line agencies concerned, as a matter of procedure. (READ: Malacañang claims no chance Bong Go intervened in frigate deal)

Malacañang also denounced the report, saying the bidding of the project happened under the Aquino administration.

The Palace, however, disregarded the fact that the alleged intervention happened during the impasse in the project’s implementation – which was already under the Duterte administration. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.