Senate probes controversial frigate deal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — Senate begins on Monday its probe of the Philippine Navy’s controversial P15.74 billion frigate deal.

Senators will investigate the issue to determine if there was intervention in the selection of a supplier for the combat management systems (CMS) of two war ships purchased by the Navy.

The frigate deal is one of the Armed Forces’ big-ticket modernization projects. The ships purchased were meant to beef up the country's territorial defense and disaster response capabilities.

The Senate probe aims to find out if the deal is being implemented in accordance with the contract initiated by the Aquino administration in 2015 and signed during President Rodrigo Duterte's term.

It comes in the wake of allegations Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, Duterte’s right-hand man, intervened in the process by backing a South Korean firm as a supplier.

The Senate resolution calling for the probe, however, made no mention of his supposed role.

READ: Senate to probe controversial frigate deal

Go is accused of influencing the decision on which company will install the CMS of two war ships purchased by the Navy. The CMS is known as the ship's "brain,” and integrates all of its sensors and weapons.

Go allegedly recommended South Korean Company Hanwha Tales system, while former flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Joseph Mercado reportedly preferred Tacticos Thales of Netherlands

Mercado was relieved from his post December last year for supposedly delaying the deal's implementation. Go, meanwhile, had earlier denied any hand in the project.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes said he has new information about the deal, although he believes Special Assistant Go had nothing to do with the contract.

“I don't think he has any personal financial interest in this matter,” he said. “Mr. Bong Go is not capable of doing his own thing without any authority from Mr. Duterte because he knows that this guy can kill him.”

Go has vowed to attend the hearing. Malacañang says his testimony will prove he has nothing to hide.

"Expect Sec. Go to tell all, and as instructed by the President, he would likely demand for an open and transparent Senate inquiry to show that he - and the Administration - has nothing to hide as he would squarely answer questions, in full view of the public," Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.

Navy Chief Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, meanwhile, looks forward to testifying at the hearing to put allegations of corruption to rest.

“Very good at least the truth will come out… there is no anomaly in the frigate walang anomalya,” he said.

Trillanes has also promised an “interesting” hearing on the issue.

“It's going to be a very interesting hearing, I can assure you,” he said.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.