DND Secretary: I recommended Navy chief 's relief over questionable frigate deal

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Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana claims the former Navy chief's disregard of his directives is tantamount to insubordination. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 20) — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed Wednesday he recommended the relief of Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado from his post as Philippine Navy chief over a frigate deal.

In a phone interview, Lorenzana claimed he and Mercado had a row over which combat management system (CMS) to install in the two frigates, which were being built by South Korean company Hyundai Heavy Industries for P15.5 billion.

"The contract says that the CMS ang mamimili ng CMS that satisfy our specification is the builder which is Hyundai. Ngayon si Adm. Mercado wants to bring in another company, another system na hindi naman kasama sa kontrata [which is not included in the contract]," Lorenzana said.

The Defense chief signed the decision to procure missile-capable frigates on August 18, 2016, as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) modernization program.

Lorenzana said he issued two directives which Mercado disregardedadding that the former Navy chief's actions is tantamount to insubordination. He added Mercado's decisions caused delays in the frigate acquisition project.

"As the Secretary of Defense I have lost trust and confidence in his integrity and leadership," he said.

Lorenzana added he explained the delays in the frigate procurement to President Rodrigo Duterte.

"I informed him that it's being delayed because of the intereference of Adm. Mercado," he said.

He also brushed off allegations that the closed-door change-in-command ceremonies were "surreptitious."

"I think he suspects that na merong move to relieve him and we do not want to have this lingering doubt na magtagal-tagal pa [it will take long], so the order was to implement, so in-implement immediately," he claimed.

Mercado was relieved of his post on Tuesday and was assigned to the AFP Chief-of-Staff's Office on Special Duties. Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad replaced Mercado as Acting Flag Officer-in-Command.

Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano questioned Mercado's removal from his post, adding that Mercado shouldn't have been removed because he was set to retire in March 2018.

Lorenzana said that Empedrad is "most qualified" to be the acting Flag Officer-in-Command, but he said the Board of Generals (BOG) will still recommend three personnel to the President to assume the post.

"Ipapasa lahat sa akin 'yan [It will be passed to me] and I  am going to forward the recommendation of the BOG. I'm not bypassing the BOG. Kaya nga acting lang muna (si Empedrad) e," he said.

CNN Philippines' Senior Correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.