By Francis Wakefield
Philippine Navy chief Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad today expressed hope that tomorrow’s Senate hearing on the controversial P15.5-billion frigate project of the Department of National Defense (DND) will help ferret out the truth.
Empedrad made the remark during an interview at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) homecoming at Fort del Pilar, Baguio City.
“Very good at least the truth will come out,” Mercado said when asked about his expectations on the Senate hearing tomorrow.
When asked about what truth he is expecting to come out from the hearing, Empedrad said no anomaly ever took place from the deal.
“That there is no anomaly in the frigate… walang anomalya (no anomaly).” he stressed.
When asked about his relationship with former Navy chief
Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, Empedrad said it’s good.
“Good, good, good. Okay naman (it’s okay) very good din,” Empedrad said.
About his thoughts on Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go and if he is involved in any anomaly, Empedrad said: “Tomorrow the interview will be about that item. Tingin ko naman walang anomalya, walang problema (and) no intervention (There is no anomaly, no problem, no intervention),” Empedrad said.
Meanwhile, Empedrad revealed that the Philippine Navy is set to acquire possibly September of this year two Augusta Westland choppers to boost its military hardware.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar earlier confirmed in a radio interview that Go will attend the Senate hearing to prove his innocence before the public.
Mercado, on the other hand, expressed hope that the P18- billion frigate acquisition project of the government will be a success despite the controversy surrounding it.
Mercado explained that he, including the 24,000-strong Philippine Navy (PN) composed of officers, sailors and Marines, wants the project to push through and succeed as part of efforts to modernize the Navy.
Reports earlier stated that Go allegedly interfered in the PN’s decision to choose the type of weapons system for the Philippine Navy frigate acquisition project.
Go already denied the accusation which claims that he wanted Hanwha Thales (HTC) of South Korea to provide the combat management systems (CMS) of the frigates over another brand.
“Well sa amin lang naman (for us) is I like that frigate because everyone in the Navy wants that frigate kasi (because) it’s a combat ship. Anong mangyayari sa Navy natin kung walang punch ’di ba (What will happen to our Navy without any punch)?,” Mercado said.
“You cannot have only transport ship, we should have a punch. The frigate is the, it’s a capital ship and this is the first in the history of the Navy that we will have a frigate newly constructed then missile-capable, air surface, undersea,” he added.
When asked if he will recommend the scrapping of the contract, Mercado said he just want the project to be fulfilled following the provisions of the contract.
“I do not want something like what happened to the (helicopter controversy several years ago). You know everything will be subjected to audit later on. Kawawa naman yung mga bata who affixed their signature, tapos sinabing bakit ganun?” he said.
When sought if there is a business angle in the decision to choose Hanwah because they are eyeing to bag other contracts as well, Mercado said he doesn’t have any information on that.
“But our modernization project natin eh ang dami talagang gustong sumali (many want to participate). The Navy has a contract for combat systems upgrade for Jacinto Class Patrol Vessel (JCPV)… Iyung contractor niyan malalakas din,” Mercado said.
The Department of National Defense (DND), on the other hand, said it welcomes the plan of the Senate to conduct an investigation on the frigate acquisition project of the government.
In a statement, DND spokesperson Director Arsenio R. Andolong said, the conduct of an investigation is an opportunity for the defense department to shed light on the matter.
“In fact, we have long been waiting for the opportunity to shed light on this issue so that the truth will finally be known,” Andolong said.
With regard to Go’s alleged participation on the project, the DND said President Duterte has already addressed the issue.
Andolong said Lorenzana confirmed that no intervention or interference by Go happened.
“The document that the SND alluded to have been given to him by Secretary Bong Go was handed to him at the Palace, so he assumed that it came from Sec. Go, special assistant to the President and chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS),” Andolong said.
“It should be noted that the one of the tasks of the PMS includes the official routing and endorsement of documents to government agencies concerned, for appropriate action,” he added.
Andolong said the subject document originated from Hanwha, one of the proponents for the Combat Management System (CMS) who were postqualified by the Philippine Navy for the frigate acquisition project (FAP).
“The SND forwarded it to then flag-officer-in-command of the Philippine Navy (Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado) for appropriate action, who, in turn, gave it to then Commodore Robert Empedrad, chairperson of the Frigate Project Management Team at the time. Adm. Empedrad wrote a reply to the document stating the preferred CMS of the Philippine Navy, subject to the terms and conditions of the contract,” Andolong said.
“There was neither hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Sec. Bong Go to influence the implementation of the project. There is a contract for the FAP which was crafted mainly by the Philippine Navy and it will be implemented strictly to the letter,” Andolong said.