BFF-38 Philippine navy chief sacked for ‘jeopardising’ frigate deal

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BFF-38

PHILIPPINES-SKOREA

Philippine navy chief sacked for ‘jeopardising’ frigate deal

MANILA, Dec 20, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – The commander of the Philippine Navy was
sacked for “insubordination” after he jeopardised a 15.5 billion-peso ($308
million) project for two new warships, the defence minister said Wednesday.

Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado was abruptly removed from office on
Tuesday with military officials saying only the surprise move followed
“instructions from higher authorities”.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters Wednesday he obtained
permission from President Rodrigo Duterte to remove Mercado owing to the
frigate project, which has been awarded to a South Korean shipbuilder.

“I had to do it because he (Mercado) was jeopardising the project,” said
Lorenzana, who sworn in a temporary navy flag commander in Mercado’s place on
Tuesday.

The government signed a contract last year with Hyundai Heavy Industries
to build two frigates to be delivered to the Philippine navy in 2020 and
2021.

Lorenzana said the project was already several months behind schedule
because the navy had failed to complete on time a “critical design review” on
the vessels before the contractor could start work.

He alleged the navy chief was delaying the project in order to force the
government and Hyundai to award a separate contract for the warships’ “combat
management system” to another foreign company.

“To me that is tantamount to insubordination,” Lorenzana added.

Mercado made it known he preferred a system offered by another company for
operational reasons, Lorenzana said, while adding that the admiral is not
under investigation for corruption.

Mercado, who has been reassigned to a subordinate navy post, has not
responded to Lorenzana’s allegations in public.

The Philippine Navy has become run down in recent decades and even
featured US craft from World War II until Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno
Aquino, begun a modest modernisation programme in 2010.

Manila has since acquired two former US Coast Guard cutters and three
landing craft from Australia as the country became embroiled in a dispute
with China over waters and islands in the South China Sea.

But Duterte has since backed away from asserting his country’s maritime
claims and focused on repairing ties with Beijing.

BSS/AFP/FI/1428hrs