Duterte aide denies meddling in Navy procurement
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2018 - 12:01am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s longtime aide yesterday denied meddling with the procurement of the Philippine Navy’s weapons system for its warships.

“I have not intervened in the procurement of (the Department of National Defense) of its computer system for its ships. I have not participated nor intervened, directly or indirectly, in the transactions of DND,” special assistant to the President Christopher Go said in a text message. 

“Further, I even have no information nor knowledge of the said transaction,” he said. 

Go asked the media to seek clarification on the issue from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana instead. 

The presidential aide was accused of endorsing a South Korean company to be the supplier of the combat management system of the Navy’s frigate program. 

Go supposedly gave Lorenzana a letter discussing why the Navy should pick the naval shield integrated combat management system (CMS) of South Korean company Hanwha Thales over Tacticos CMS of Thales Nederland.

His office allegedly asked the chairman of the Navy frigate project technical working group to attend a meeting at Malacañang to discuss the selection of the weapon system. 

The Navy reportedly insisted on choosing Tacticos CMS because of its compatibility with the military’s equipment.

Meanwhile, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano accused President Duterte of being behind the sudden relief of former Navy commander, vice admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado in December last year. 

“I remind everyone that it’s only the President who can remove major service commanders. He cannot not have known about this,” Alejano said in his privilege speech in Filipino last Monday. 

Lorenzana told reporters last year that he fired Mercado due to “loss of trust and confidence.”

Duterte has distanced himself from leadership changes in the Navy. 

“I don’t know. I don’t meddle in their operations. I have to ask. You know, I do not really interfere in the Armed Forces. I let them do their job…reshuffling, whatever, transfer,” Duterte told Palace reporters. 

But Alejano – a former Marine captain – believes there is more to Mercado’s relief than meets the eye, noting that it was carried out at a time when the Navy was busy with its P18- billion frigate acquisition project, which he labeled a “controversy.” 

“The controversy is a case where the ‘contractor won over the Navy,’” he told his colleagues in the House, as the contractor won the bid to build two frigates which the Navy as “end-user” will use in protecting the country’s maritime territory. 

“We can put it this way: the business interest of the contractor won over the national interest of our country,” Alejano revealed, as Mercado had been pushing and vouching for the losing bidder that was “disqualified.” 

“This is not possible without the collusion of some greedy people in the government. Who are these people who favored a foreign contractor over our own Philippine Navy?” the opposition lawmaker pointed out. 

A brand-new, modern and armed frigate can be equipped with missiles and is considered at par with modern warships of other countries. This can fill the gap in the country’s external defense capabilities.

According to Alejano, this frigate is also capable of conducting anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare operations. 

Lorenzana had questioned Mercado’s “intention behind his fixation with one specific company for the  (CMS) of the brigade acquisition project.” 

“The contract says the one who will purchase the CMS that will satisfy our specification is the builder… Mercado wants to bring in another company, another system which is not part of the contract,” Lorenzana explained. 

Lorenzana said he informed Duterte last November about the delays caused by Mercado’s demand. 

Mercado was replaced as head of the Navy and reassigned to the office of the military chief. – With Delon Porcalla

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