Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima today defended former President Benigno S. Aquino III against allegations that the controversial P16-billion frigate acquisition program for the Philippine Navy (PN) was concluded during his administration.
De Lima, a former justice secretary, said the Duterte administration should stop using the Aquino government as a default scapegoat to skirt away from any responsibilities for whatever anomalies its officials have committed.
“As I have said before: Every time the Duterte government gets involved in dubious deals, the President and his cohorts always divert the issue instead of addressing it head-on–either Duterte and his lackeys will blame the past administration or they will invent another outrageous lie to change the headlines,” she said.
“The revelations made by Rep. Alejano, a former Navy and Marine officer, in his privilege speech, further affirms that the Aquino government cannot be blamed for any anomaly in the bidding because the awarding of the contract via a notice of award was actually consummated in Aug. 2016, and the signing itself of the contract on Oct. 2016, both during Duterte’s term,” she added.
Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go has reportedly meddled into the purported suspicious acquisition of two missile-capable frigates for the PN, but he denied his supposed intervention in the selection of the weapons system supplier.
Shortly after the news broke out, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque came to Go’s defense, claiming that the South Korean bidder for the Philippine Navy’s acquisition of two frigates was selected during the administration of then President Aquino.
Roque likewise claimed that the present administration’s role in the procurement was merely ministerial, making it impossible for Go to interfere in the acquisition.
In his recent privilege speech, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano belied Roque’s claims as he confirmed that Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) of South Korea won the bidding with an amount of PhP 15.745 billion during Duterte’s term on Aug. 16, 2016.
He questioned why Malacañang got involved in the issue, which many political pundits and security insiders claimed could have caused the unceremonious relief of former Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado.
The Senator from Bicol pointed out that Alejano’s revelations should be taken seriously as they put to question the crucial role Malacanang played not only in the relief of Mercado, but also in the suspicious procurement process.
“Rep. Alejano’s revelations raise more suspicions about this frigate acquisition program which might jeopardize our AFP modernization program and our national security,” she noted.
Mercado who was set to retire this March has been unceremoniously relieved from his post last Dec. 18. His relief was ordered by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
The PN’s contract with HHI stipulates options between Hanwha Thales of South Korea, a subcontractor of Hyundai, and Tacticos Thales of the Netherlands to provide the Combat Management System (CMS) for the warships.
Alejano also revealed that Go demanded for an explanation when the Navy, under the leadership of Mercado, insisted on tapping Tacticos Thales to install the combat management system on the two frigates because Hanwha Thales consortium has been dissolved even before the contract with HHI was signed.
What is even more disturbing, according to De Lima, is Alejano’s revelation that the contract with HHI contains very disadvantageous provisions that give power to the shipbuilder–instead of the Navy as the end-user– to dictate the configuration of the warships.
De Lima and other members of the Senate minority bloc have filed a Senate Resolution 584 calling for an investigation into the suspicious multibillion-peso frigate acquisition program of the PN.