IF Rappler’s line of coverage in the P15.6-billion frigate contract were applied to all instrumentalities of government, every letter referred for an agency’s comment and discussed with its officials would be suspect, if not incriminating.
Receiving correspondence from the public, including bidders in procurement contracts, happens all the time in all state offices, most especially in the Palace, as this writer knew firsthand in eight years as Secretary of the Cabinet, then another two years as Civil Service Commission chairman and presidential spokesman in the Arroyo administration.
Yet for Secretary Bong Go, Special Assistant to President Rodrigo Duterte, a simple referral spurred insinuations of illicit dealings.
When headlines accuse
“Bong Go says his office ‘endorsed’ frigate supplier’s complaint to DND,” blared one Rappler headline, which many readers may mistake as saying that SAP Go favorably endorsed the complaint.
In fact, it was a neutral endorsement or a simple referral, as countless officials have to do within 15 days of receiving correspondence on pain of administrative charges for neglect of duty.
“DOCUMENTS: How Bong Go is linked thrice to frigates deal,” was another Rappler article. But again, there are links and there are links. The headline may make many readers think that Go’s connection to the frigates deal was a strong one, maybe even an illicit one.
But what exactly were those documents? They were, as Rappler reported:
“a Post-it note on a white paper endorsing a supplier of the Combat Management System (CMS) that was to be installed in the ships”;
“a letter inviting the Navy officer in charge of the project to a meeting in Malacañang about the CMS selection”; and
“a report submitted by the same Navy officer addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte and Go himself.”
Just to be clear, in the first document, it was the white paper that endorsed the supplier, not the Post-It note.
Again, based on many years of Palace work, referral notes, meeting invitation notices, and reports on issues raised by Malacañang are boringly numerous and frequent. If they were incriminating, this former Cabinet official would have faced charges in his first month in Malacañang.
No smoke, no fire
That is not to say that referrals, meetings and reports cannot be corrupted. But before a responsible, non-partisan news organization raises graft concerns, there should be far more evidence than the three documents Rappler cited. At least, that’s how this writer’s employer of 17 years as editor-writer in Hong Kong, Time Magazine-owned Asiaweek, would handle investigative coverage.
For instance, were there officials or even unnamed sources who accused Secretary Go of interference? None. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Navy chief Commodore Robert Empedrad, and his ousted predecessor, Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, all cleared Go.
Did Go meet with Hanwa Systems, the Korean supplier of the CMS, which was reportedly a joint venture between frigate builder Hyundai Heavy Industries and rival CMS supplier Thales of the Netherlands?
No such meetings are reported, not even in Rappler, unlike, say, the two meetings then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd and then-Health Secretary Janette Garin had with Sanofi-Pasteur top executives, leading to the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia vaccine purchase.
Did Malacañang rush the frigates deal, hustling up funds even if there was none appropriated? That’s what the Aquino regime did with the P3.5-billion Dengvaxia deal, which was also exempted from clearance by the Department of Health panel reviewing all drugs DoH orders.
Nope. The P15.7-billion frigates contract was awarded two weeks before the past administration ended in June 2016, though Sec Lorenzana signed the contract in October.
Was there anything disadvantageous in the deal? Maybe, but nothing to do with Go, since he never participated in contract negotiations.
Col. Leonardo D. dela Paz, chief of the Defense Acquisition Office of the Department of National Defense, cited as disadvantageous a contract note allowing frigates builder Hyundai Heavy Industries to select the CMS supplier, and HHI chose Hanwa.
The Navy wanted the Tacticos system of Thales, but HHI would charge an additional $9 million per ship, or $18 million total, to install the Tacticos CMS. That’s P900 million additional. Plus: the Thales system cost $14 million more. So, the Navy went with Hanwa.
Grilling Go, not Aquino
Now, is there anything in all that to warrant corruption news, not to mention a full-scale Senate investigation? Nothing much, prompting Sen. Loren Legarda, a longtime news anchor, to remark that the Senate inquiry was just wasting Go’s time.
Despite no smoke, however, Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th and his colleague, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, insist there is fire. With nothing on Go, they now claim that a hidden mastermind used him. Trillanes says he will name the culprit in due time. The gullible will wait with bated breath.
But for impartial, professional news media, the real anomalies lie elsewhere, like Dengvaxia, with top-level meetings between the Aquino government and Sanofi, the rushed realignment of billions of pesos, and the vaccination of 830,000 children without blood tests to verify past dengue infection.
How has Rappler reported Dengvaxia? With two presidential meetings, the massive budget rejigging, exemption from DoH drug review, and dozens of dengue deaths among vaccinated children, you’d think Rappler would be far more incensed, with screaming headlines decrying the Aquino regime’s actions.
Well, here are some Rappler titles: “Noynoy Aquino defends rush in buying dengue vaccine.” “‘Confident’ Aquino faces Senate probe into dengue vaccine controversy.” “At Senate, Aquino faces Dengvaxia controversy head-on.” “Aquino says no one advised him vs using Dengvaxia in PH.” And last week, “Aquino, Sanofi, DOH officials face graft complaint over Dengvaxia mess.”
But no headlines about Aquino meeting Sanofi, his government realigning P3.5 billion to fund Dengvaxia, or exempting the vaccine from DoH drug review. In fact, which titles are more suggestive of corruption, the above headlines on Dengvaxia, or those about Go’s “endorsement” of the white paper and “documents” that “thrice linked” him to the frigates deal?
Rappler did run an editorial titled “#AnimatED: Somebody has to answer for the dengue vaccine disaster.” It mentioned one Aquino meeting with Sanofi, but nothing about conjuring P3.5 billion for an unbudgeted vaccine program with no DoH drug review.
Maybe this explains why President Duterte doesn’t want Rappler covering Malacañang anymore.