Officials deny Bong Go’s involvement in frigate acquisition project

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — There is no way that Special Assistant to the President (SAP) was involved in the purchase of warships for use by the Philippine Navy.

These were the statements of several officials after SAP Bong Go was linked to a controversial Navy procurement project.

President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the issue in an interview with reporters Tuesday, saying Go never intervened.

"The things that you are telling here never happened. 'Pag magtanggap kami ng ganun, ipasa namin doon sa proper [If we receive anything we pass it on to the proper] - if it's the Justice Department, it goes to the Justice Department. If the subject matter here is about transportation, it goes to Tugade," he said.

Duterte said he would ask Go to resign if proof of his involvement could be found.

Go said he was "unfairly dragged" into the issue as he was not privy to the transaction.

"I have never seen the controversial document (white paper) that is alleged to have come from me, much less, handed the same to SND Lorenzana," he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also spoke up on the issue, referring to an article published by online news agency Rappler.

In a statement Roque said "Rappler's allegation against SAP Go is without legal and factual basis."

He said it was the Aquino administration who chose the suppliers of the frigates.

"It was also during the previous administration that Hyundai was declared the responsive bidder and awarded the two frigates, including the CMS (combat management system)," Roque said.

These means, Roque said, that it would have been useless for Go to intervene in the project.

Speaking to defense reporters by phone, former Navy Flag-Officer-In-Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado categorically denied Go had any hand in the project.

"Basta ako on my side, only when I was FOIC, I'm very sure that Secretary Bong never, never even raised the issue of the frigate in many occassions that we were together. Magkasama pa nga kami sa mga [We were even together on], you know, sa foreign Navy ships, he was not asking me the about the frigate project, never," he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also denied Go's supposed role in the project.

In a statement, he said the project position paper now in question which he forwarded to the Navy appeared to have been merely routed through the Presidential Management Office (PMS) which Go also heads.

The documents reportedly drove a wedge among Department of National Defense and Navy officials on how to go on with the project.

Lorenzana insisted Go did not intervene in the deliberations.

"I can no longer remember ang papel na ito. It was my handwriting. I actually wrote this last Jan. 12, 2017 – one year ago na. Di rin alam ni Bong Go na binigay sa akin. Ang conclusion ko rito binigay sa akin sa Malacañang so I assumed na galing kay Bong Go. Matagal na masyado. Nakalimutan ko na," he said.

[Translation: I can no longer remember the paper. It was my handwriting. I actually wrote this last Jan. 12, 2017 - a year ago. Bong Go didn't know it was given to me. My conclusion is this was given to me by Malacañang so I assumed it was from Bong Go. This was long ago. I've forgotten it.]

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent David Santos and Digital Producer Pia Garcia contributed to this report.