Philippine Navy chief relieved from post

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Navy's Flag Officer-in-Command VADM Ronald Joseph Mercado was reassigned to the office of the Chief-of-Staff, AFP on Special Duties. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — The head of the Philippine Navy was relieved from his post as ordered by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, officials said Tuesday.

The Navy's Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado is reassigned to the office of the Chief-of-Staff, AFP on Special Duties, the statement from AFP Spokesperson Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo read.

"The reason for this Change-of-Command will be explained in due time," it added.

Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad replaced Mercado as Acting Flag Officer-in-Command. Empedrad was the former Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Reservists and Retiree Affairs.

Mercado was due to retire in March 2018.

The Naval Public Affairs Office also kept mum on reasons for Mercado's relief.

"On the reason of his relief, I am not privy with the decisions and/or other issues at hand hence I could not give you a definite answer. I defer your questions to higher authorities," Capt. Lued Lincuna, the office's Director, said.

Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano said Mercado's removal from the navy's top post is "highly unusual and unceremonious."

"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," Alejano said in a statement.

The lawmaker suspected Mercado's relief from his post was related to the Navy's procurement of frigates, in line with the AFP's modernization program.

"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.

Alejano added that change-in-command ceremonies are traditionally undertaken at the concerned unit's headquarters-in this case, the Navy's headquarters in Pasay City. He said Mercado was relieved "without fanfare" at the Hall of Flags inside the AFP's General Headquarters in Quezon City.

The decision to acquire two missile-capable frigates for the Navy from Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) was signed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on August 18, 2016.