PH Navy chief relieved after disagreement over P16-B warships

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Following directives from "higher authorities," Armed Forces chief General Rey Leonardo Guerrero has relieved Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado of his post as chief of the Philippine Navy 3 months ahead of his retirement in March 2018.

Three sources in the military confirmed this information, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) later confirmed in an official statement on Tuesday, December 19.

AFP spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo said in a statement that the AFP chief implemented the changes following instructions from "higher authorities."

Mercado has been assigned to the office of the AFP chief, while Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad was designated as acting Navy chief, he said.

"The AFP Chief of Staff Gen Rey Leonardo Guerrero has implemented the  instructions from higher authorities to:  Assign VADM Ronald Joseph Mercado to the office of the Chief-of-Staff, AFP on Special Duties; and  install Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad as Acting Flag Officer-in-Command, Philippine Navy," Arevalo said.

The brief statement did not state the reason for the changes.

"The reason for this Change-of-Command will be explained in due time," the AFp spokesman said.

The development comes after Mercado tried to stand up to the Department of National Defense over the implementation of the Navy's P16-billion project to acquire two modern warships or frigates, based on information gathered by Rappler.

Details of the disagreement remain unclear.

The frigates acquisition project is one of the two big-ticket modernization projects of the Armed Forces of the Philippines funded under the previous Aquino administration. The other item, the P16-billion project to acquire 12 fighter jets, is already completed.

Lorenzana wants him out?

A draft letter was earlier prepared to ask President Rodrigo Duterte to remove Mercado from his post. It was supposed to be signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. 

When Rappler showed the letter to Lorenzana in the first week of December, the defense chief said: "Tingnan mo. Hindi ko pinirmahan (Look. I didn't sign it)."

"Okay naman (It's okay)," he said when asked about his relationship with Mercado.

The DND conducts the bidding process for the Navy, which is the end user. Mercado reportedly wanted to make sure that the Navy's specifications were followed.

South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries won the bid to build the two warships. But the contention was over the Combat Management System (CMS) that will be installed in the ships.

Mercado refused to be  interviewed when asked about the issue. 

He stepped down on the eve of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' founding anniversary. – Rappler.com