Bong Go 'not aware' of Palace meeting on Navy frigate deal

MANILA, Philippines – Special Assistant to the President Bong Go supposedly did not know about the Malacañang meeting called by his own undersecretary about the P15.5-billion Navy frigate deal.

This was the claim of former Palace undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao who called the meeting and invited Navy officials to discuss a contentious aspect of the big-ticket defense project.

"He was not aware," Lao told Rappler on Friday, January 19.

Lao said Go was not present at the meeting which took place on January 20, 2017. Lao invited Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, the Navy officer in charge of the frigate project, to Malacañang to discuss the selection of supplier for the Combat Management Systems (CMS) of two frigates to be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Malacañang's involvement in the Department of National Defense project had raised eyebrows.

"Secretary Bong Go does not attend such meetings," said Lao, adding that Go's office is not located in the New Executive Building, where the meeting was held.

Lao had earlier confirmed the authenticity of the letter about the meeting and that the meeting took place, proving Malacañang, specifically Go's office, intervened in the project.

Lao had arranged the meeting as part of his duties as undersecretary in the Office of the Special Assistant to the President, the office of Go.

Lao is also said to be one of Go's most important aides, with one source saying his communications are often interpreted as Go's direct instructions. Lao is now the CEO of the House and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), where he is also a commissioner.

Go's name figured in the controversy when a handwritten note from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stated that a white paper recommending a South Korean supplier for the CMS, Hanwha Thales, was handed to him by Go. (READ: Part 2: Ousted PH Navy chief wanted 'proven technology' for warships)

Lorenzana eventually confirmed the authenticity of the note, but said he had wrongly "assumed" that Go gave him the document. The defense chief claimed he could not recall who in Malacañang gave him the white paper.

Malacañang's involvement in this billion-peso deal, one of the two biggest Armed Forces modernization projects, contradicts Duterte's previous assertions that his office does not intervene in government contracts.

"Mind you and you can ask anybody in government, I do not allow government contracts to reach my table, either in my house or in my office. I do not," Duterte said during an Integrated Bar of the Philippines' convention on March 23, 2017.

Lao had said receiving complaints like that of bidding winner Hyundai Heavy Industries and calling meetings to address such complaints is a "usual course of action" in Go's office.

He said Malacañang receives many such complaints because of the government's call for complaints about any anomalies in government.

The Senate is set to investigate the controversial warships deal. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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