Senate to invite Bong Go to probe into PH warships deal

Camille Elemia

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Senate to invite Bong Go to probe into PH warships deal
'Siya ang central figure. Iimbitahin siya, inevitable 'yan,' says Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted aide, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, will be invited to the Senate investigation into the controversial P15.5-billion Philippine warships project.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said Go is the “central figure” in the issue.

Aside from Go, the committee is also set to invite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, among others, to the hearing.

Siya ang central figure. Iimbitahin siya, inevitable ‘yan. Along with Secretary Lorenzana, FOIC Empedrad, dating FOIC Mercado, COS (Chief-of-Staff), maiimbitahan talaga ‘yan. Mag-schedule ng hearing diyan. In-assure ni Senator [Gregorio] Honasan nang nagusap-usap kami [na] tatawag siya ng pagdinig,” Lacson said in an interview on dzBB on Sunday, January 21.

(He is the central figure. It is inevitable that he will be invited, along with Secretary Lorenzana, FOIC Empedrad, former FOIC Mercado, the Chief-of-Staff, they will be invited. We will schedule a hearing. Senator Honasan assured us of that when we talked about it.)

Go earlier said he would attend the Senate probe if invited, as he insisted that the allegations are “false.”

Lacson said the hearing would most likely be held in February, as Honasan, committee chairman, requested time to study documents. He added that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who called for the hearing, is set to return to the country next month.

“Pinag-usapan natin ito ni Senator Honasan, chairman ng defense committee at ako, vice chairman, kung magpapatawag kami ng pagdinig doon. Nakiusap si Trillanes, aalis siya at pagbalik February na, so February ma-schedule ang hearing. Pero pinagusapan namin magkakaroon definitely ng pagdinig kasi may resolution na referred sa committee chaired by Senator Honasan,” Lacson said.

It was the 6-member minority bloc that filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the Philippine Navy’s acquisition of two warships.

In their resolution, the Senate opposition said the committee should “determine whether or not such acquisition promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws.”

Go, 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.

In January 2017, Go allegedly interceded on behalf of contractor Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) by sending a white paper to the Department of National Defense (DND) expressing preference for Hanwha Thales, a South Korean company and the HHI’s choice, as the supplier for the CMS. The Navy, on the other hand, wanted to get Tacticos Thales of the Netherlands because of its “proven technology.”

Lorenzana then gave the white paper to then Navy chief Mercado, who insisted on the Navy’s position. (READ: Ousted PH Navy chief wanted ‘proven technology’ for warships)

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

In the end, the DND ruled that the Navy should get Hanwha Thales. Shortly after, Mercado was relieved from his post in mid-December 2017.

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