Letter to a friend, Vice Adm. RJ Mercado
Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado,
Office of the AFP Chief of Staff,
Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo,
I wanted to talk to you personally, perhaps over a cup of coffee, just to see how you are and maybe to get my current events straight from the horse’s mouth. But the signals I got from the heavens indicated some discomfort over such a meeting. And so I decided it was best not to pursue the matter.
Instead, this will be a one-way conversation in writing, and coffee shall be saved for sunnier days at a time and place of your choosing.
Many years ago, when you and I entered the Philippine Military Academy, we were required by our upperclassmen to put to memory a lot of what I would call as nonsense. Some were silly, idiotic passages written by unknown authors, some were straight out of West Point cadet manuals. But others dwelt on serious matters and in a way helped us get through those frenetic first hundred days of plebehood.
Perhaps the idea was to keep our minds busy so we won’t
indulge in self-pity over the loss of comforts once enjoyed at home with family.
There was the Cadet Prayer. After all these years, you may have forgotten the prayer but let me refresh your memory with some of its more memorable lines because they are as relevant today as they were in the past. The lines read:
“Let the light of Thy Divine Wisdom direct us to a firm resolve to live up at all times to the creeds of our institution … Strengthen our hearts with fortitude that we may discipline our lives to trail the difficult paths rather than to stray on easier ways.”
Last December, you were relieved of command of the Philippine Navy without the traditional rituals that normally accompany this event. In a recent Senate hearing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana justified the action, basically charging you with insubordination. It is difficult to understand how a senior officer who has reached the pinnacle of his career can suddenly be guilty of insubordination. This attitude would have been detected much earlier and would have been cause for alarm in the organization. And so I have serious doubts that insubordination was the real problem. Neither do I believe the insinuations that you had some personal interests to pursue. When character assassination is employed in conflict situations with no solid evidence presented, it is usually a sign of weakness. The aim is to tarnish the image of the messenger in order to divert attention from the validity of his message.
The controversy that led to your relief actually involves the choice of a combat management system (CMS) for the two frigates that the Philippine Navy is set to acquire. In simple terms, the CMS is the heart of any naval combat vessel as it coordinates the simultaneous use of its multiple armaments in combat.
The construction of the frigates was awarded last year to Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) of South Korea. But after the contract was signed, South Korea’s high court issued a decision banning HHI from participating in government contracts for two years in connection with a bribery case. This is a red flag! How can we as a government possibly continue to honor a contract with a business entity whose own government has banned it from participating in government contracts because of a bribery case?
HHI, the shipbuilder, favored a Korean CMS called “Naval Shield” while Thales, a Netherlands-based subsidiary of Thales Group, offered a CMS called “Tacticos.”
Tacticos is the most widely-used CMS in the world. It is used by 22 countries including the United States, Japan and Australia, since 1993 or for almost 25 years.
On the other hand, Naval Shield has been in service for five years and only the South Korean Navy, and possibly, Malaysia, uses this system. Tacticos is about $7 million more expensive but has a reputation for greater reliability and time-tested performance.
You and the entire naval high command prefer the Tacticos CMS for obvious reasons. Few people realize this but President Duterte is in agreement with your views. Recently he spoke against lowest bidders winning government contracts. His long years of experience in government has taught him that lowest bids are not necessarily the best and that he would rather pay more for a better quality product. The initial cost may be a bit higher but in the long run, we get a more efficient, more reliable product. When it comes to high value, high-tech defense equipment, our country deserves the best. We cannot afford to coast along with a “puwede na” mentality. Too much is at stake. As he did in canceling a signed contract with Canada for helicopters, I believe the President will do what is in the best interests of our country with regard to the frigates of the Navy.
You will be retiring on March 10 after 56 years in the military service. You were a fresh high school graduate from Cebu when you joined the PMA cadet corps in 1979. You graduated with the Class of 1983, finishing No. 9 in the Order of Merit out of 196 members and rose to become flag officer in command, the youngest among your Navy classmates. You espoused what was right and most beneficial for the organization and in a broader sense, for our country. In consonance with the Cadet Prayer, you chose “to trail the difficult path rather than to stray on easier ways.” That is what our people expect from the leadership of the different branches of the Armed Forces.
As you move on to another phase in life, I join your countless supporters in wishing you, in true Navy fashion, “Fair Weather and Following Seas.”
Ramon J. Farolan
Maj. General, AFP (Ret.)
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