Trillanes: Duterte hand in frigate deal an act of plunder

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 23) — Pesident Rodrigo Duterte in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) admitted to the crime of plunder, a staunch critic and former lawmaker said Tuesday.

During his speech that lasted for more than an hour and a half, Duterte again recalled how he ordered his former aide and now Senator Christopher "Bong" Go to handle a complaint filed by the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the South Korean firm that won as supplier of two Navy warships worth ₱15.5 billion during the previous administration.

"That Korean went to Malacañan just to complain why is it that there is no request for delivery. So I told Bong, “Bong, ayusin mo ‘yan (fix that),” Duterte said in his SONA on Monday. "He went to [Defense Secretary Delfin] Lorenzana and Lorenzana nagsulat siya (he wrote)."

The Senate launched a legislative inquiry in 2018 amid accusations Go sent Lorenzana a "white paper" recommending Hanwha Thales, another South Korean firm that the HHI wanted to provide the Combat Management System (CMS) for the warships. This CMS integrates the frigates' sensors and weapons. Former flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Joseph Mercado reportedly preferred Tacticos Thales of Netherlands, and was relieved from his post for supposedly delaying the deal's implementation.

"As confirmed by our findings during the Senate investigation, Duterte and Go's interventions on behalf of the South Korean company helped make it profit billions of pesos more by forcing the Philippine Navy to accept ... substandard equipment, such as the combat management system, that were different from the list specified in the original contract," Senator Antonio Trillanes IV said in a statement.

Under the law, plunder is committed when a public officer "amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth," either by himself or in conspiracy with other individuals. Those found guilty face life imprisonment and disqualification from public office.

In his SONA, Duterte called on the 18th Congress to pass a law restoring the death penalty for plunder and drug-related crimes. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a media briefing on Tuesday said the President will certify the measure as urgent.

Despite issues hounding the frigate deal, Lorenzana earlier said the project will still be carried out, and that the first of two ships are expected to be delivered in 2020. These are part of the Armed Forces' modernization program and are aimed at beefing up the country's territorial defense and disaster response capabilities.