Alejano hits Lorenzana, Navy chief’s ‘change of tune’ in frigates probe

Bea Cupin
Alejano hits Lorenzana, Navy chief’s ‘change of tune’ in frigates probe
'Rather than clarifying the issue, what the recent House inquiry on the frigate project revealed is a change of tune,' says Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano

MANILA, Philippines – Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, a former officer of the Philippine Marines, called out Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Navy chief Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad for their “change of tune” during a House probe into a controversial frigates acquisition project.

In a statement released late Wednesday, March 7, Alejano said the two top defense officials seemingly had different things to say about the preferred Combat Management System (CMS) for the two warships the Navy is set to acquire.

“Rather than clarifying the issue, what the recent House inquiry on the frigate project revealed is a change of tune of [Lorenzana] and [Empedrad] over the preferred CMS,” said Alejano.

What does he mean? The two officials had affirmed during an earlier Senate probe that they preferred Netherlands-based Thales Tacticos over South Korean Hanwha Systems, which is set to provide the CMS for the frigates.

Empedrad’s letter to President Rodrigo Duterte, said Alejano, also indicated that they preferred Thales Tacticos.

“However, during the House hearing, it seems the winds have changed. [Lorenzana] and [Empedrad] is now doing an apple-to-apple comparison of Thales Tacticos and Hanwha’s Naval Shield as if the two are of the same and equal competence when in fact, it is not,” he said.

Lorenzana, speaking to media after the hearing, said the frigates deal would push through and that Hanwha would provide the CMS. The defense chief said it wasn’t a question of preference, but meeting specifications.

Alejano insists this should not be the case. “This premise is erroneous since Hanwha Systems is not compatible to Tactical Data Link 16 (TDL 16) and, thus, non-compliant to the requirements indicated in the final contract,” said Alejano.

TDL 16 a data exchange network adapted by the Philippine military. It allows their assets to be able to “communicate” with each other.

“[Empedrad] is insisting that Hanwha has issued a conformance that Naval Shield is already compatible to TDL 16. If indeed this is the case, what was there still a discussion during the Senate hearing on the possibility of Hanwha not being able to comply with the TDL compatibility requirement?” added Alejano.

What’s the big deal? The acquisition of frigates is long-awaited. The multi-billion deal is much-needed for the Philippine Navy, among the weakest in the region.

The deal came under the spotlight in December 2017, after then Navy chief Ronald Mercado was unceremoniously sacked from his post for supposed “insubordination.” Lorenzana then and now says this is because Mercado refused to follow his orders over the frigates deal and the selection of the CMS.

The project turned controversial even more after it was revealed that top presidential aide Bong Go  and his office, the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), had intervened in the selection of the CMS.

At the end of the day, said Alejano, the focus of the frigates project should be doing what’s “beneficial and best” for the Philippine Navy. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.