The Department of National Defense (DND) would like to clarify several points raised by Maj. Gen. Ramon Farolan, AFP (Ret.) in his recent Reveille column (“Letter to a friend, Vice Adm. RJ Mercado,” 2/26/18).
During the hearing conducted by the Senate committee on national defense and security last Feb. 19, the issues surrounding the Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP) for the Philippine Navy (PN) were discussed on national television.
The DND stated for the record its official stand on several matters, some of which we would like to reiterate in this letter.
First, on Mercado’s relief as flag officer in command (FOIC) of the PN due to insubordination: This has been confirmed earlier by no less than Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana who stated that Mercado refused to carry out official orders from the DND regarding the FAP, resulting in undue delay of the project, and, ultimately, the secretary’s loss of his trust and confidence. Available records in the possession of the DND and PN can attest to this. With all due respect to Farolan, Mercado’s past track record as a military officer is irrelevant to the issue at hand.
Second, Mercado’s perceived “unceremonious” relief from his position is not a rare occurrence in the military establishment. In the armed services, one may assume his post or be relieved from it without fanfare or pomp, if higher authorities decide that the situation calls for it.
Parades and ceremonies are traditions which can be changed or dispensed with. They are accorded to military commanders in recognition of their exemplary service or who have meritoriously completed their tour of duty. Again, with all due respect to the author, the reason and circumstances that led to Mercado’s relief as FOIC are anything but meritorious.
We also beg to disagree with Farolan that the issue is about a disagreement between Mercado and the DND on the choice of combat management system (CMS) for the frigates and that the one preferred by the PN is more “superior than the other.”
From the DND’s standpoint as the procuring entity of the two frigates, the real issue is about complying with the government procurement law. Mercado’s explicit preference for Thales Nederland’s Tacticos CMS goes against Section 18 of Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, which does not allow the procuring entity or end-user to expressly state a specific brand or product in the technical specifications of a project.
Unlike Mercado, the DND does not have a preferred CMS. The source of the component is irrelevant for as long as: 1) It is compliant with the Navy’s technical requirements as stated in the Terms of Reference, which, we might add, were crafted by no less than the PN’s very own technical working group headed by Mercado; and 2) That the manner by which the procurement was undertaken does not run afoul of Philippine law. Interestingly enough, both CMS were certified by the PN to be compliant with their technical requirements, as evidenced by the Post Qualification Summary and Evaluation Report which Mercado himself signed.
In essence, Mercado is forcing the DND to violate the law with his fixation on a particular product. Unfortunately, the law is the law, and for as long as the aforementioned provisions of RA 9184 are in effect, they must be followed.
In full confidence, we assure the public that the FAP is aboveboard and was bidded out in accordance with established rules and procedures, following RA 9184 and RA 10349 or the Revised AFP Modernization Act.
Every acquisition project in the AFP modernization program is part of a bigger effort to enable the DND to fulfill its mandate of “guarding against internal and external threats to national peace and security.” Acquiring the frigates will enable our nation’s defenders to guard and patrol our territorial waters and secure our nation.
In closing, we would like to point out that it is to the best interest of the Filipino people for the frigate project to continue. To rescind the contract agreement for causes other than what are authorized in RA 9184 is disadvantageous to the Filipino people. It runs counter to the DND’s thrust of upgrading the capability and modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines and contradicts President Duterte’s commitment to give our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines the best equipment in the soonest possible time.
ARSENIO R. ANDOLONG, MNSA, CESE, chief, public affairs service/spokesperson, Department of National Defense
Editorial cartoon, March 7, 2018