Administrator Robert A. Empedrad: THE MASK OF SORROW
Barely able to change outfit from a telephone booth, Vice Admiral Robert A. Empedrad zooms in as Administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the 17th in over 40 years, the 4th in barely three years of the Duterte administration.
Whispers were confirmed when the Palace released his appointment March 2, with former Army Chief Macairog Alberto as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Israel, among others.
Empedrad took his oath March 16th at the MARINA Central office among senior public officials, military peers, civilian staff, and sprinkling of others. No fuss, no mess.
His trending photo in the social media wears a mask, wits smartly call The Mask of Sorrow --- showing personal pathos for the victims of the viral pandemic, and a soldier’s march confront the uncertainties of a deceitful enemy, to implement protocols of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) on a Code Red Sublevel 2 category of his Commander-In-Chief, President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
In the very limited “digital” encounter of Marino World with him, there is logical expectation that, finally, a man has been chosen appropriate for the time and issues. But then, that is only a first impression and expanding on it is placing the cart before the horse.
In alignment with the social distancing of ECQ, we emailed a questionnaire we expected to sit given his urgent and critical priorities. Behold, he did not act as the usual bureaucrat but reverted at once with emphatic answers. We share the reader these with minimal edit (just for editorial space).
The Q & E.
1. MW, How would you compare the EMSA and Covid 19 challenges with the Moro conflicts in Mindanao and the combined Communist forces of PP-NPA-NDF rebels?
EMSA and COVID 19 are two different things and they pose seemingly insurmountable challenges which I believe can be overcome if all concerned work together as one.
I cannot comment on comparing them with the other two subjects.
2. MW, Your first public statement is “enhancing the morale and welfare of the employees of MARINA.” Has there been any lowdown in VAdm Vingson’s term or because of the Covid 19 scare or of Pres. Duterte’s declaration of a State of National Calamity and the imposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ)?
My initial guidance has nothing to do with current state of moral and welfare of personnel at the time of my assumption. This is just my style of leadership which is to focus on two things; accomplishment of the mission and to look after the morale and welfare of my men.
When I was the FOIC, PN, some of the major projects we put in place are transforming PN gyms to world class facilities, improve barracks in training institutions and modernize offices for more conducive working condition.
We also provide more opportunities for schooling abroad for our personnel in line with modernization and even discounted education with universities like Las Pinas College. If moral of personal is high, you expect them to perform well.
(On the) declaration of ECQ by the President, I believe is the right thing to do! We, in MARINA came up on how we can perform our assigned tasks thru work at home scheme, our personnel is in high spirits ready to work hard to contribute to the government efforts to contain COVID 19 as ONE FAMILY.
Our personnel even voluntary contributed one-day salary to support the meals/PPE requirements of our frontliners against COVID 19 (health workers in the hospitals particularly those in the RITM).
3. MW, Quite clearly, The President was waiting for your retirement from the military service and VAdm Vingson was really for OIC tenure. Given “angry seas” of the times, was this helpful in terms of public management?
This is just heresay without any basis. Needless to say, I would like to publicly express my snappy salute his (Vingson) excellent performance as OIC of the MARINA and I have expressed my sincere intentions to sustain the programs and processes he put in place.
I am grateful to our beloved President Duterte for his trust and confidence in me for appointing me as Administrator, MARINA after giving me the privilege to serve as Flag Officer In Command, PN for 2 years and 1 month.
On the side of Public Management, changing people is always good as new ideas can come into place. Be that as it may, the President knows best and has the prerogative to designate anybody.
4. MW, Even as OIC, VAdm Vingson Jr. made back-channelling on the EU Directorate managing EMSA which may be read as desperation sending an OIC functionary. How do you consider this attempt in the overarch of things?
The EMSA has just been concluded and the results will be out in November of this year! I have not seen the results of the EMSA yet. VAdm Vingson, expressed his assurance that most of the deficiencies in the previous EMSA findings has been addressed.
If there are still issues that need to be addressed, this will be one of my priorities as the MARINA Administrator!
For now, our main focus is to help fight the war against COVID19.
5. MW, How do you take the pressures of full endorsement from former Administrators, senior public officials, and more typically, that of Commo. Carlos Agustin, President of the Maritime League, expecting your “honor and fortitude”?
I am not aware that I have the full backing of former Marina Administrators, other senior public officials and Commo Carlos Agustin. But if this is so, I am very much humbled. But, I could not be more humbled learning that I have the full support of Senator Bong Go, and Secretary Arthur Tugade and more importantly, the trust and confidence given by the President.
That said, I take this as an overwhelming challenge but at the same time a golden opportunity to perform even better. My two years as FOIC, PN was not without pressures and trust me on this. Besides, the ECQ gave me the opportunity to educate myself and make plans and guidance.
As I perform my duties, I will be guided by two verses from the Bible:
1) Psalm 118:8 (The Center Verse of the Bible)
“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”
2) “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
6. MW, With much whispers of corruption at the MARINA, do you plan to tag along trusted colleagues at N2, the Naval Staff for Intelligence?
It’s not my style of leadership to bring people with me. Ask senior officers from the PN. When I assumed as FOIC, PN, I only relieved the Flag Secretary, equivalent to an Executive Secretary, which is normal.
I might designate a Chief of Staff and one experienced senior officer expert to a senior post. But, I assure you that no one among the current senior officers in MARINA will be relieved neither will I bring along someone from the intelligence group.
I don’t know about the existence of corruption, but just like in any organization, when good systems and policies are well defined; automation are set in place to reduce interactions between MARINA personnel and proponents; sanctions against those found guilty are without tolerance and consistent.
More importantly, if we get the full support and collaboration of the entire industry; then, I see no reason why corruption will not be eliminated.
7. MW, Amaro gave a program, Gen. Guerrero 12-points, VAdm Vingson was busy bleaching the regulatory body. What are yours which you believe doable at targeted times?
I will sustain what my predecessors have put in place! I believe the MIDP 2028 is a good strategy to implement. I have studied it during my 14-day self imposed quarantine. I believe it was a product of great minds and collaboration among maritime stakeholders.
We just have to implement it and of course continue to seek counsel from other Maritime Stakeholders just like the Maritime League and other Associations.
8. MW, Points you wish to emphasize, Sir?
We fight as one against COVID19! This is my Number 1 priority now!
We will also address the issues of EMSA 2020 and prepare for IMSAS 2021.
We will implement MIDP2028.
Set programs for the moral and welfare of MARINA Employees.
Elsewhere in this issue are more stories on the new Marina Administrator. We have high expectations things will crank faster --- and better--- given the track record of VAdm. Empedrad.
Perhaps, we now can see the zip on things, transforming the mask of sorrow to the Mark of Zorro, like things zipping to better levels without the small talk but with the serious acts.
Perhaps, Mr. Empedrad will not be a cheerleader with hairy legs, as past retirees who throw pompoms to retain positions, not really to reform the agency.
The New Administrator
ANNEALED BY SKIRMISHES
No vestal virgin in controversies, the 37th Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) has been annealed by skirmishes even in the two years (19 December 2017 to 03 February 2019) he served as Navy Chief.
Here are pitched battles he survived from, if survival means earning the trust of Pres. Duterte.
The Navy and CEO Raul Lambino of the Cagayan Economic Zone (CEZA) agreed for a Naval detachment at Fuga Island where Chinese Fong Zhi Enterprises plans to build a $2-billion “smart city” at the Isla Fuga Pacific Resort. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says this will make the country vulnerable to Chinese spying, like similar proposals in Grande and Chiquita Islands in Subic Bay.
Fuga is part of the Babuyan archipelago, the Phil northernmost island group on the cusp of the West Phil Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Natl Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., wants 13 lighthouses in the Babuyan and Batanes island group as a subtle way of asserting sovereignty.
Even if we sacrifice (read, scrap) other Defense Modernization goals, Empedrad wishes for six offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) from Australia, eight Shaldag from Israel, two corvettes, two frigates, possibly a submarine or two from France, enough to secure our waters, these on a price tag of $10-billion.
Two brand-new corvettes may be purchased following the signatures of Sec. Lorenzana and Ka Sam-Hyun of the Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) at Ulsan, South Korea coinciding with the 69th “birthday” of the Marine Corps (PMC).
The silent but sizzling feud with MajGen Alvin Parenno, PMC Commandant, who advocates for an independent PMC as the fourth uniformed command next to the military (AFP), police (PNP), and Coast Guard (PCG).
Parenno had to resign and was replaced by MajGen Nathaniel Casem; then, a compromise where PMC handles its budget separately but still under the Navy.
Lease the office.
To get more boats, ships, and firepower like fast attack interdictor craft-missile (FAIC-M), he is willing to lease the Naval office at prestigious Roxas Boulevard, by Manila Bay. This will finance the 15-year Military Modernization estimated at PhP300-billion.
The Budget Dept. balks as such lease is earmarked for retired soldiers and war veterans.
There is no official guidance to react on foreign war crafts transgressing on our waters on pretention of innocent passage. The mode is merely to “shadow”, by airplane to document presence; or harangue with speakers seeking identification or, at worst, position Phil ship cross its bow to cut course and edge until it exits Phil waters, often at Sibutu Straight (Tawi Tawi) or Balabat Strait (Palawan).
There should never be a call for “general quarters” as this means readiness for a battle. Besides, no foreign craft will initiate armed engagement in an area it is patently intruding.
Empedrad was publicly furious on the Gem-Ver 1 incident where a large Chinese fishing rammed a small Filipino fishing vessel on Phil waters and left them at the mercy of night and elements. He was further outraged by the statement of Chinese Embassy spokesman Geng Shuan it is “irresponsible” for the Phil “to politicize the incident without verification”.
But his anger melted when Pres. Duterte called it a “minor incident.” He now echoes the president, obviously knowing where his bread is buttered.
In a PhP15.5-billion project, Empedrad assures the Senate that it was the technical working group (TWG) which allowed HHI “sole right to choose” the makers of the combat management systems (CMS) and other critical systems to be installed on two Navy ships.
VAdm Ronald Mercado wants the better Tacticos Thale, HHI picked the cheaper Hanwha systems.
Save the workers.
Empedrad wants the Navy to help bail out HHI to save jobs in the country and assure security, notwithstanding HHI’s $412-million debts to local bankers plus some $900-million to South Korean creditors.
The moment overtook his wile.