Sacked Navy chief denies Bong Go intervened in warship deal

Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 17 2018 10:06 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2018 02:25 PM

Relieved Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado seen here with President Rodrigo Duterte, his top aide Bong Go and other military officials at the Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) in Davao del Sur following the ship's commissioning during the 119th Anniversary of the Philippine Navy at the Sasa Wharf in Davao City on May 31, 2017. Malacañang Photo

MANILA - The former commander of the Philippine Navy who was unceremoniously relieved last month finally broke his silence and spoke to the media on Wednesday.

Relieved Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado in a phone call told reporters that Special Assistant to the President Bong Go was not involved in the acquisition of two new Navy warships for $308 million.

The former Navy chief said his attention was caught by reports pertaining to a piece of paper with his name concerning a supposed instruction by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. 

Mercado was earlier removed from office following "instructions from higher authorities," according to military officials.

"Apparently because of that, there were insinuations about Secretary Bong Go, and you know I just like to come out because when I was FOIC (Flag-Officer-in-Command), he never once, with so many times we were together in many foreign Navy ships and there was never an instance, not once that he even asked me about the frigate, never," Mercado told reporters. 

The government signed a contract in 2016 with South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries to build two frigates to be delivered to the Philippine Navy in 2020 and 2021.

But concerns were raised last month after he was abruptly fired for purportedly delaying the project.

Lorenzana claimed Mercado was trying to force the government to award a separate contract for the warships' "combat management systems" to a specific electronics company.

The defense chief said at the time that "insubordination" was the reason why he recommended that Mercado be removed as FOIC. 

"I questioned his intention behind his fixation with one specific company for the combat management system (CMS) of the brigade acquisition project," he said. 

News reports about the frigate transaction revealed that Mercado was trying to maintain the provisions of the contract signed by Lorenzana against intervention which would result in the acquisition of a different and inferior brand of CMS.

Mercado is set to retire by March and has the option of early retirement. 

"Those are options available to me but I'm not yet...have been thinking about it because I'm more concerned with preparing for possible investigation, if there is one," he said.

In the same phone conversation, Mercado said he respects Lorenzana's decision to relieve him. 

"You know I'm a military officer, I obey orders, I know the Secretary of National Defense, he has some justification for doing it, so I respect it, ganun talaga," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier denied his chief aide's alleged involvement in the transaction of frigates.

Go himself said he would resign if proven to have intervened in the deal.