Ousted PH Navy chief welcomes transparent frigates probe

Carmela Fonbuena
Ousted PH Navy chief welcomes transparent frigates probe
'The hearing will shed answers and more information on the Frigates Acquisition Project,' says former Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado

MANILA, Philippines – Ousted Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado said he welcomes President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for an “open and transparent public hearing” to probe the controversial P16-billion project to acquire two warships. (READ: Duterte rejects executive session for Bong Go in frigate hearing)

“I’m happy his instruction is for an open and transparent hearing…. I support the President,” Mercado told Rappler on Saturday, February 10.

“The hearing will shed answers and more information on the FAP (Frigates Acquisition Project),” he said. (READ: Q&A: Ousted PH Navy chief Ronald Mercado on the warships deal)

Mercado was removed from his post in December last year for alleged “insubordination” over the frigates deal. He supposedly ignored directives coming from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to accept the suppliers that shipbuilder Heavy Hyundai Industries (HHI) had chosen for the systems of the ships. (READ: Bribery scandal hounds Korean firm tapped for PH Navy warships)

Mercado stood by the position of the Navy Technical Working Group that the chosen supplier for the critical Combat Management System – the so-called heart of the warship – did not meet technical requirements specified in the contract. (READ: Combat Management System not the only issue in frigates deal – Mercado)

His removal called media attention to the frigates project. Three documents later showed the apparent intervention of Duterte’s right-hand-man, Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go, in the selection of the CMS. 

The project is the subject of a two-part investigative report published on Rappler:
Part 1: Bong Go intervenes in P15.5-B project to acquire PH warships
Part 2: Ousted PH Navy chief wanted ‘proven technology’ for warships

3 documents linking Bong Go

While the Department of National Defense and the Philippine Navy were debating the selection of the CMS last year, Lorenzana instructed Mercado to rebut a white paper endorsing Hanwha Systems. Based on the defense chief’s marginal notes, the white paper came from Go.

An undersecretary in the office of Go, lawyer Chris Lao, also wrote to the Navy officer in charge of the project to attend a meeting in Malacañang to discuss the CMS selection. The same Navy officer – now Philippine Navy chief Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad – would submit a written report addressed to Duterte himself and to Go.

Go denied any knowledge about the frigates project. He told Rappler someone might have been using his name. But his former undersecretary, Lao, confirmed writing the letter to arrange the meeting in Malacañang. 

Mercado himself said the presidential aide never approached him personally about the frigates project. It was Empedrad who was contacted by Malacañang. 

Lorenzana said he has forgotten about the white paper and must have wrongfully assumed it came from Go. He said it was handed to him in Malacañang.

Regarding the probe, Duterte earlier cautioned Go against agreeing to an executive session. “Huwag kang pumayag ng secret-secret meeting diyan. Harap-harapan (Don’t agree to a secret meeting. It should be face-to-face),” he added.

The President said a public hearing will cause someone’s “sorrow.” “It may be to their sorrow – lalabas talaga ‘yan diyan kung bakit nagku-compete silang dalawa (it will really come out why the two are competing),” he said. – Rappler.com

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