Duterte picks Empedrad as Navy flag officer in command
President Duterte has designated Rear Adm. Robert Empedrad as head of the Philippine Navy.
The President’s order, dated Jan. 16 and addressed to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, was released by Malacañang on Thursday. It approved Empedrad’s designation as Navy flag officer in command, effective Dec. 19, 2017.
“I wish to inform you that, per your letter-endorsement and in accordance with the recommendations of the chief of staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines and chairman, AFP Board of Generals … the designation of (Empedrad) … as commander, flag officer in command, Philippine Navy is hereby approved,” the President said.
Empedrad replaced Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado as Navy chief because, according to Lorenzana, of Mercado’s inordinate insistence on a particular weapons system for the country’s first two missile frigates.
Lorenzana said he had lost “trust and confidence in [Mercado’s] integrity and leadership” because of his threats to derail a weapons contract that was signed last year.
The contract was awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in early 2016 during the Aquino administration. Empedrad had chaired the Navy’s Frigate Project Management Team.
The controversy over the project erupted again this week after Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go was accused of interfering in the project.
Go has denied the allegation and President Duterte has defended his top aide.
On Wednesday, the Department of National Defense cleared Go of any wrongdoing and said he did not intervene in the project.
Based on what was claimed as a paper trail, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said on Thursday the President should have ordered an investigation into Go’s alleged interference in the frigate acquisition project (FAP) instead of “lawyering” for him.
In a statement, Alejano said Malacañang’s denial of Go’s involvement in the FAP was a “glaring contradiction to the documents.”
The bone of contention lies with Go’s alleged preference for HHI’s choice, Hanwha’s Naval Shield, for the warships’ combat management system (CMS), overruling the Navy’s own choice.
Alejano cited the following documents as evidence of Go’s interference in the FAP, especially in the selection of the CMS:
A Jan. 12, 2017, white paper with Defense Secretary Lorenzana’s marginal note saying the document came from Go.
A Jan. 18, 2017, letter from Go’s office directing newly appointed Navy chief Empedrad to report to Malacañang.
The appearance of Empedrad and the whole Project Management Team (PMT), which he headed then, in a Jan. 20, 2017, meeting with former Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao under Go’s alleged instructions.
Empedrad’s Jan. 23, 2017, letter to Mr. Duterte, which made references to a letter by Go’s office requesting the PMT to justify the CMS chosen by HHI.
Alejano claimed Go’s actions were prompted by an alleged visit of an official of South Korean CMS provider Hanwha. The supposed meeting with Go “possibly” took place between Jan. 5 and 11, 2017.
This came after former Navy chief Mercado wrote Lorenzana on Jan. 4, 2017, about the “grossly disadvantageous” provisions allegedly inserted by HHI to ensure it would have the right to choose the CMS provider.
Instead of Hanwha’s Naval Shield system, the Navy preferred the Tacticos system of the Dutch company Thales Nederland.
But the white paper, a copy of which was released by Alejano to reporters, stated the Hanwha system would provide the Navy the “most economic and effective logistics and upgrade, etc.”
Mr. Duterte took the cudgels for Go on Tuesday, vehemently denying the veracity of the white paper and going so far as to single out Rappler as a “fake news outlet” for publishing an article on it.
But Alejano said: “The ones involved in this anomaly may disavow it, but it cannot be denied that in the end, business interest prevailed over national interest because of these events.”
He called Empedrad “the least qualified” among the candidates for the position of Navy flag officer in command, having no Naval Forces Command stint. —WITH A REPORT FROM VINCE F. NONATO
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