Navy chief: Multi-billion frigate deal was 'above-board'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 22) — The head of the Philippine Navy is defending President Rodrigo Duterte over a ₱16 billion frigate deal with South Korea.

Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad also dismissed any ethical question on the project.

Duterte recently confirmed he ordered former Special Assistant Bong Go to act on the complaint of Hyundai Heavy Industries to make sure the acquisition of frigates worth some ₱16 billion would proceed.

In a speech on Oct. 19, Duterte said, "Anybody who is complaining about graft and corruption, I will give you an audience any time."

Empedrad said there was nothing unethical about the Korean firm bringing the contract to the President's attention.

"There is none. Wala, wala. It's just a normal, parang gusto mong mag complain... Hindi ko kasi alam kung ano yung content pero wala namang ano, wala namang problema doon," Empedrad said.

[Translation: There is none. None, none. It's just a normal, it feels like you want to make a complaint... I don't know what the content was but there was no problem.]

Empedrad was among those at the center of the controversy when Congress investigated the deal early this year.

The issue came to light after Empedrad's predecessor, then Navy Chief Ronald Mercado was hastily fired last December for supposedly refusing to carry out the project.

Mercado had reservations about Hyundai's proposals, but Empedrad pushed for the deal and subsequently replaced Mercado.

Testifying before lawmakers in February, Go said his office merely endorsed the complaint just like thousands of others brought before his office.

Empedrad was in South Korea recently for a ceremony formally kicking off the construction of the frigates.

The first of two deliveries is scheduled in March 2020.

Emperad gave his assurance that he did not receive money for the deal.

"Wala kaming kinita na kahit singko centavos dito [We did not earn even five centavos from this], and I assure you, that our frigate will be delivered on time," he said.

However, although the deal is pushing through, administration's critics in Congress vow to continue their probe on the project.