Philippine navy chief Ronald Joseph Mercado sacked for ‘insubordination’ over new frigates
Mercado allegedly delayed the project to force the government and main contractor to award employ another company to install the warships’ combat management systems
The commander of the Philippine Navy was sacked for “insubordination” after he jeopardised a 15.5 billion peso (US$308 million) project for two new warships, the defence minister said on 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 on 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 swore 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 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’s attitude of “orchestrating such unmeritorious issue does not speak well of his leadership for which this department had lost its confidence in him to lead this important major service command,” Lorenzana wrote in a letter explaining the dismissal.
Mercado, who has been reassigned to a subordinate navy post, has not responded to Lorenzana’s allegations in public.
The Philippine Navy has become rundown in recent decades and even included US craft from the second world war 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.
The head of the Philippine military, as well as the army, navy and air force chiefs, are appointed by the president.
House of Representatives member Gary Alejano, spokesman for a political party made up of former military rebels, called on Congress to launch a public inquiry into the navy chief’s dismissal, which he described as “highly unusual and unceremonious”.
“I suspect that this has something to do with the lingering issue of the Navy’s frigate acquisition project,” Alejano said in a statement.
Alejano said his party is aware Mercado had opposed the Hyundai deal, though the legislator gave no other details.
“This is an important issue considering that this involves around 18 billion pesos of the [military] modernisation fund,” he added.