By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has denied any involvement in the controversial frigate acquisition project of the Philippine Navy, saying government contracts do not reach his desk in Malacañang.
The President instead pointed out that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and then Navy chief Ronald Mercado were actually fighting over the frigate procurement deal.
“Hindi ako kasama [I am not involved]. It was Mercado and Lorenzana all the time,” Duterte said about the warship deal before an assembly of Filipino-business community at the Manila Hotel last Monday night.
“To be frank. Alam ninyo, ‘yung mga transaction na papeles ganun, hindi umaabot ‘yan ng Malacañang [To be frank, you know that those kind of transactions, papers do not reach Malacañang],” he added.
Duterte claimed that he has an existing policy barring government contracts and other business transactions from his office. “I do not allow contracts and transactions on my table. They are not allowed to enter Malacañang. Ganun ako kahigpit [I am that strict],” he said.
The President made the remarks after Senator Antonio Trillanes IV reportedly suspected the President’s involvement in the warship project. The senator claimed that Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go, who has been accused of meddling in the military contract, would not have acted alone.
Duterte, however, has rallied behind Go and Lorenzana who recently appeared before Senate probe on the Navy’s frigate project, believing they are men of integrity.
Duterte said he told Go to tell the truth at the Senate hearing since he has done nothing wrong.
“Sabi ko nga kay Bong, ‘just tell the truth.’ Wala ka namang problema. Bitawan mo ang totoo kay ‘di man talaga dumating ‘yan [I told Bong, ‘just tell the truth.’ You don’t have a problem. Just tell the truth that it did not reach you],” he said.
Duterte admitted though that the winning Korean bidder of the frigate deal had complained to the Palace about the delay in the delivery of the project. It turned out the delay was caused by the infighting between Lorenzana and Mercado.
“Oh ‘yung Koreano na nanalo sabi niya bakit ngayon walang order ng delivery? Eh paano nagtatalo sila diyan sa ibaba [A winning Korean bidder asked why the delivery order has not been made, that’s because there’s an infighting below],” he said.
Lorenzana, however, continued to enjoy the President’s trust amid the frigate controversy.
“I believe in Lorenzana. I believe in their honesty– Año and the others– because I know that they are honest and men of integrity, that’s why nandiyan sila sa Cabinet [they are in the Cabinet],” he added.
While contracts are barred in the Palace, Duterte said he has encouraged the public to send to the Palace any complaint about corruption in government. He assured that the Palace would take note of the complaint and look into the matter.
“I have been telling everybody, you especially, in the previous meetings, if you have any complaint especially about corruption, go directly to me or write Malacañang,” he said.
“‘Yan ‘yung mga telltale signs of corruption ganon. So ‘yan, pina-imbestiga [Those are the tell-tale signs of corruption. Those are (beng) investigated],” he added.