Senate committee to probe Navy’s P16-B warship purchase deal
The Senate committee on national defense and security will open inquiry into the controversial purchase of two Navy frigates next month, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Sunday.
Opposition senators called for the inquiry after President Rodrigo Duterte’s closest aide had been reported to have meddled in the P16-billion deal.
Lacson, vice chair of the committee, said he and committee chair Sen. Gregorio Honasan II had agreed to hold the inquiry in February upon the request of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
Lacson said in a radio interview that Trillanes had to take a trip and would return in February, and that Honasan wanted to study the voluminous documents that had been sent to him.
To be invited were new Navy chief Robert Empedrad and his predecessor, Ronald Joseph Mercado.
President Duterte’s chief aide, Christopher “Bong” Go, would also be asked to appear because he was the “central figure” in the controversy, according to Lacson.
Go has been accused of taking special interest in the frigate acquisition project when he supposedly sent an unsigned letter to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana overruling the Navy’s choice of a combat management system (CMS) for the frigates.
Go allegedly pushed for a CMS offered by another company.
Go has denied the allegation and both Lorenzana and Mercado have said he never intervened in the Navy project.
Opposition Rep. Gary Alejano also blamed Go’s supposed intervention for the relief of Mercado last month. Mr. Duterte has designated Empedrad as Mercado’s replacement.
Go has denied having intervened in the project. In a statement, he said he would cooperate in congressional hearings “and face the false and malicious accusations” against him.
The Senate minority filed Senate Resolution No. 584 last week directing the committee on national defense and security and the congressional oversight committee on the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act to conduct an inquiry into the status of the modernization program and the purchase of two frigates.
Opposition senators wanted the inquiry to establish whether there were violations of the government’s procurement laws and if the President’s aides intervened in what they said was the first military procurement of the Duterte administration.
The project was first initiated by the Aquino administration in October 2015 to beef up the country’s territorial defense and disaster response capabilities.
Mercado on Saturday said he was willing to appear at the Senate inquiry. He insisted that nobody from Malacañang intervened in the program.
In an interview with Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar over Radyo ng Bayan, Mercado said he would take the hearing as a chance to present his side and that of the Navy’s project management team.
He reiterated his earlier statement that Go did not meddled in the matter.
The allegation of Palace interest in the project arose after Defense Secretary Lorenzana was given a document in Malacañang that favored a South Korean weapons systems supplier for the frigates.
The document assailed the Navy’s preference for the Tacticos CMS made by Thales of the Netherlands but highlighted the advantages of the Naval Shield integrated CMS of South Korean Hanwha Systems.
Lorenzana gave the document to then Navy chief Mercado, telling him it came from Go and asking him to prepare a rebuttal.
Go’s office also sent a letter to then Commodore Empedrad, who headed the frigate project’s technical working group, to attend a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the selection of the CMS.
Lorenzana has since said he had wrongly assumed that the document had come from Go and that the latter had not intervened in the project.
In the radio interview on Saturday, Mercado said he had met Go several times, but the secretary had never asked him about or expressed any interest in any Navy project.
The President has never shown a similar interest in the project either, he added.
Mercado also said that whenever the Navy received communication from Malacañang, somebody from the Palace would call to follow it up. But there was no such call with regard to the document about the frigate that had been given to him.
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