Navy chief wants executive session if weapons system discussed in frigates probe

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad will seek an executive session should senators ask about the weapons system in relation to the Navy's frigates deal, the subject of a Senate probe set to start on Monday, February 19.

Empedrad said on Saturday, February 17, that while there is nothing irregular in the Navy’s now-controversial acquisition of the Combat Management System (CMS) in the purchase of new frigates, the weapons system itself is matter of national security.

“If the questions are about the weapon systems of the frigate, [then] that has to be very confidential,” Empedrad said on the sidelines of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) homecoming at Fort Del Pilar. 

Asked why confidentiality was crucial, the Navy chief said, “Of course, so our enemies don’t find out.” 

On Monday, the Senate will begin its probe into the Navy’s P15.5-billion warship deal, amid allegations that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go intervened in the deal. 

Duterte had insisted that Go should reject testifying in an executive session, and opt for an “open and transparent” hearing.

Allegations that Go tried to intervene in the Navy frigates deal are based on the marginal notes of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a white paper endorsing Hanwha Systems. It indicated that Go handed the document to him.

Lorenzana later confirmed it was his handwritten note but said it was not Go who gave him the document, but someone in Malacañang he could no longer recall.

Undersecretary Chris Lao, who was under Go at the time, also wrote to the Navy officer in charge of the project to a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the CMS selection. That officer was Empedrad. 

Empedrad belongs to the PMA Sinagtala Class of 1986, and was appointed to the post after his predecessor, Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, was relieved because Lorenzana had lost confidence in him.  

Mercado had ignored directives from Lorenzana himself to accept Hanwha, which shipbuilder Heavy Hyundai Industries (HHI) had chosen for the systems of the ships. (READ: Ousted Navy chief wanted 'proven technology' for warships)

Go had denied intervening in the deal while Empedrad had insisted that the big-ticket project is aboveboard.

Nearly all personalities – both uniformed and non-uniformed – are graduates of the PMA. Mercado belongs to PMA Class 1983 while Lorenzana, a retired military officer, belongs to PMA Class 1973. –