February 23, 2018, 10:30 pm
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Empedrad named Navy chief

PRESIDENT Duterte has named Rear Adm. Robert Empedrad as Navy chief.

Empedrad, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1986, has been acting Navy chief, in concurrent capacity as the AFP’s deputy chief of staff for reservist and retiree affairs, since December 19 after Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado was unceremoniously relieved from the top Navy post in connection with the Navy’s frigate acquisition project.

Duterte signed Empedrad’s papers on Tuesday, based on the recommendation of the Armed Forces’ Board of Generals chaired by AFP chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said he recommended Mercado’s relief for favoring a combat management system, produced by the French firm Thales Group, that would be installed on two frigates being built by the Hyundai Heavy Industries for the Navy. Lorenzana said Mercado ignored his several directives to stop pushing for the Thales Group, and it was tantamount to insubordination. 

Mercado is on “floating status” at Guerrero’s office.

Empedrad, before becoming AFP deputy chief of staff for reservist and retiree affairs in February last year, was commander of the Philippine Fleet’s Off-shore Combat Force, in concurrent capacity as project manager of the frigate acquisition program.

A senior military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said the list of officers recommended for the top Navy chief and submitted to the office of President Duterte was “maneuvered.”

The source said the Board of Generals initially recommended, through the DND, three officers for the post -- Empedrad and Rear Admirals Rommel Ong and Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, both of the PMA Class 1987.

The recommendation was revised, and contained the names of Empedrad and other members of PMA Class 1986 -- Rear Admirals Gaudencio Collado, Danilo Rodellas, Rene Medina, and Allan Ferdinand Cusi.

“They (Bacordo and Ong) were not included. They were replaced with members of the (PMA) Class 86,” the source said noting 

Meanwhile, spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the Department of National Defense is not going to terminate the P18-billion frigate acquisition project which Magdalo party list Rep. Gary Alejano, a former Marines captain, earlier said was anomalous.

He said Alejano’s “allegations” are not enough to cause the abrogation of the deal.

The P18-billion contract for the construction of the two frigates, including the weapons system and munition, was awarded by the defense department to Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea in October 2016.

Lorenzana has said it should be Hyundai that should decide on the type of combat management system that should be installed on the frigates. Hyundai is reportedly eyeing to install a cheaper and less capable CMS produced by Hanwha of South Korea.

In a privilege speech on Tuesday, Alejano alleged that Mercado was relieved because he was blocking the “business interest” of Hyundai.

Alejano also alleged that Christopher “Bong” Go, special assistant to President Duterte, intervened in the project, in favor of Hanwha. Lorenzana and Mercado on Wednesday said Go did not intervene in the frigate acquisition program. 
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