Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said on Monday that business interest may have prevailed over the welfare of the nation in the Philippine Navy's frigate acquisition project. File
Duterte appoints officer involved in frigate controversy as Navy chief
Audrey Morallo ( - January 18, 2018 - 5:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has officially appointed Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad as the new flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy which is currently at the center of controversy following allegations that the Palace dipped its hand in multibillion-peso frigate deal of the service.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dated Jan. 16, 2018, Duterte said that Empedrad's appointment was effective Dec. 19, 2017, a day after the unceremonious relief of former Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado.

"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, pursuant to Republic Act No. 8186, as amended by Republic Act No. 9188, the designation of Rear Admiral Robert A. Commander, Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy is hereby approved effective December 19, 2017," Duterte said in his letter to the defense chief.

READ: Magdalo: Navy chief's ouster may be due to stance on P18B warship procurement

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo) blasted Empedrad's appointment which he said was because of his "subservience to the wishes of the Palace" rather than his qualifications for the position which should guide the Board of Generals in its choice.

Alejano said that Empedrad's appointment would lead to the "consummation of [the] anomalous frigate project" and compromise the professionalism and affect the morale of troops.

The Magdalo lawmaker also questioned the qualifications of the new Navy chief for the position, claiming that he was the "least qualified" among the candidates for the post and had no stint as naval forces command.

READ: Ship's computer system at heart of Navy frigate deal issue

The Philippine Navy's frigate acquisition project is being buffeted by questions following allegations that Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go meddled in the program, a charge he denied.

Alejano, in a privilege speech in the House on Monday, said that Mercado's sacking could be because of his preference for the combat management system of Thales Tacticos of Netherlands over that of Hanwha Systems of South Korea, the firm that Go allegedly was lobbying for.

In separate statements on Tuesday and Wednesday, Go denied having a hand in the P18-billion project and decried the allegations. He also vowed to step down from office should the allegations be proven true.

Lorenzana, the defense chief, also came to the defense of Duterte's aide.

"The Secretary of National Defense is confirming that no intervention or interference by Sec. Bong Go happened," the defense department said. "There was neither hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Sec. Bong Go to influence the implementation of the project."

Mercado, the former Navy chief, stressed that Go did not intervene in the frigate project  and did not raise the program in the "many occasions" they were together.

"There was never any mention of anybody trying to influence or intervene at [the Department of National Defense]," he said.

Alejano said that before Empedrar's appointment it was "widely expected" that Rear Admiral Allan Cusi would be appointed as acting Navy chief. However, this did not happen, according to the lawmaker, because Cusi's position on the frigate project was the same with that of Mercado.

"[The interested parties] want the replacement to the position of FOIC to be somebody who will do the bidding of HHI [Hyundai Heavy Industries] and its co-conspirators in government," the lawmaker added.

READ:  Ship's computer system at heart of Navy frigate deal issue

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