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Alejano: Relief of Navy chief ‘highly unusual,’ likely related to frigate purchase

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Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano has many questions regarding what he called the “highly unusual and unceremonious” relief of Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, who was relieved of his post as Flag Officer-In-Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy.

Mercado was replaced by Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, the current Deputy Chief of Staff for Retirees and Reservist Affairs.

“The relief is highly unusual and unceremonious in so many counts,” the former Marine captain said in a statement.

Alejano noted that Mercado was expected to serve out his remaining three months in the service. He is due to retire on March 18, 2018.

“It is rare that commanders are relieved a few months away from their retirement unless this is due to compelling reasons such as health or that he is accused of committing grave misconduct,” he said.

He further noted that the relief of commanders are traditionally undertaken at the headquarters of the concerned unit, in this case, the headquarters of Philippine Navy on Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City.

“The event is usually attended by guests, subordinate commanders, troops and even members of the media. Furthermore, the event is highlighted by service protocols and ceremonies to give honor to the outgoing commander in recognition of his service to country and dedication to duty,” Alejano said.

In the case of Mercado, he was relieved without fanfare at the Hall of Flags inside General Hedquarters building with few people in attendance.

He wondered why there was no announcement of his relief. “The relief was done almost in secret and very unceremonious.”

Alejano said the timing was also “very ungracious” as it was done “in the middle of an otherwise festive holiday season and just a day before our men and women celebrate the AFP Day.”

“The question is, why? I suspect that this has something to do with the lingering issue of the Navy’s frigate acquisition project,” he said.

“Months ago, I have received information from various sources about anomaly in the ongoing procurement of frigates in the Navy. Accordingly, Mercado stood his ground that proceeding with the procurement of the frigates under the present contract would be disadvantageous both to the Navy – which is the end user – and to the Filipino taxpayers,” he said.

“On the other hand, one information states that Mercado is delaying the project,” Alejano said.

He said his partylist is currently gathering more information.

“The Magdalo will seek the truth behind the procurement and will make sure that anomalies, if there is any, are uncovered,” he said.

“In view of this, I shall file a resolution requesting the House Committee on National Defense and Security to conduct a hearing on this matter immediately when Congress’ session resumes. This is an important issue considering that this involves around php 18 billion of the AFP’s modernization fund,” Alejano said.