The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has submitted a shortlist of three senior Philippine Navy officers who are vying for the post of Navy flag officer in command.
A military source on Tuesday disclosed that the AFP Board of Generals has already passed a list of recommendations to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who will be checking the list of candidates before submitting it to President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.
The candidates are Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, the acting Navy chief; Rear Admiral Rommel Ong, the Philippine Navy Inspector General; and Rear Admiral Joby Bacordo, the Naval Sea Systems commander.
Empedrad is a “mistah” (classmate) of Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa, who both belong to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sinagtala” Class of 1986.
Ong and Bacordo, meanwhile, are members of the PMA “Hinirang” Class of 1987, and classmates of Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, the Quezon City Police Director, and Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, among others.
According to the source, Lorenzana was pushing for Empedrad to be the next Philippine Navy chief, “for obvious reason.”
“But he [Empedrad] is not the most qualified. In fact, there are questions on his qualification because he did not command any Naval Force,” the source, who requested anonymity, told reporters.
A Naval Force is equivalent to an Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.
Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado was replaced by Empedrad in December last year for “insubordination” over a frigate deal of the Philippine Navy, as mentioned by Lorenzana.
The Defense chief accused Mercado of sitting down on the frigate deal and disregarding the weapons system already provided by the Hyundai Heavy Industries by allegedly lobbying for a France-based company.
The source said Lorenzana wanted Empedrad to officially head the Philippine Navy since “he is their main [man]in the frigate program.”
“So they can implement it the way they want it and to silence the Philippine Navy, who is contesting and [has]issues [over the frigate deal]. That is why they relieved Mercado,” the source said.
“Either Bacordo or Ong. They are definitely more qualified. Selection should be based on merit and qualification,” he added.
The source said there were “rumblings” within the Philippine Navy, with officers urging their PMA classmates and other friends not to let themselves fall into the “manueverings” of Defense Undersecretary Raymundo Elefante, who is in charge of materiel and finance of the agency.
The source showed a text message, indicating that Elefante was hiding something in the frigate deal and insisted that the program will not benefit neither the Philippine Air Force nor the Philippine Army.
“It is really sad. Empedrad will further divide the Navy and will not be able to stabilize the situation. I just hope that they will look into the qualifications based on summary of information and curriculum vitae and not just seniority,” the source said.
“The Navy is hoping and praying that Secretary Lorenzana and the President will change their minds,” he added.