Lorenzana: Frigates mess former Navy chief Mercado’s fault

Bea Cupin
Lorenzana: Frigates mess former Navy chief Mercado’s fault
The defense chief pins the blame on the Navy officer he sacked, insisting that Mercado did not follow the law, usurped powers, and failed to follow commands

MANILA, Philippines – Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, March 7, insisted that the Philippine Navy’s P15.7-billion frigate acquisition project  was above board, amid questions over alleged anomalies connected to it.

Speaking before the House committee on national defense and security, the former military officer pinned the controversy over the deal on sacked Navy chief Ronald Mercado, who was unceremoniously relieved in December 2017 for supposedly failing to follow the Cabinet secretary’s orders.

What’s going on? The House is beginning its probe into Mercado’s sacking (a resolution filed by minority leader Danilo Suarez) and “alleged anomalies” in the project (a resolution filed by former Marine officer and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano).

This is the second congressional probe into the controversies surrounding Mercado’s sacking and the multi-billion project. The Senate earlier conducted an investigation, and no less than top presidential aide Bong Go was present during the hearing.

Go and his office, the Presidential Management Staff, had apparently intervened in the project, asking Mercado through Lorenzana back in 2017 to answer a paper that argued in favor of South Korean company Hanwha Thales.

Go’s office later called Navy officers to discuss the selection of the critical Combat Management System (CMS) for the two frigates to be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries.

After Mercado was sacked, he was replaced by Robert Empedrad, the management leader for the project.

The frigates project is a big deal. The Philippine Navy is among the weakest in the region and its acquisition would be a huge boost to the force and its efforts to guard the Philippine archipelago.

What happened at the House? Lorenzana did not mince words in his opening speech

“How can you continue to have confidence and trust in a leader who interferes in a legally binding contract, usurps your authority, and ignores your orders?” said Lorenza, who noted Mercado’s “fixation” on picking Tacticos Thales for the CMS.

“I have never disobeyed any lawful order from a superior officer,” said Mercado in his own opening remarks.

The Vice Admiral, who is set to retire on March 9, turned emotional has he insisted his “pure intention” in applying the “literal and technical meaning” of the contract, in accordance with the country’s laws and rules. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.