Philippine navy chief relieved due to reported frigate row

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine navy chief has been relieved of his duties, reportedly because of differences with other security officials over a frigate deal, officials said Tuesday.

Military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said the military chief of staff, Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, has enforced orders from "higher authorities" and assigned Vice Adm. Ronald Joseph Mercado to his office and installed an acting navy chief, Rear Adm. Robert Empedrad.

Arevalo said "the reason for this change of command will be explained in due time."

Navy spokesman Capt. Lued Lincuna said he was not aware what sparked Mercado's "relief," and asked reporters to refer their questions to "higher authorities."

In a letter seen by The Associated Press, however, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana complained that Mercado, through his subordinates, "had continued to trifle" with the Department of Defense's decision in a major frigate deal, which the department awarded to Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea last year.

Mercado and other navy officials apparently had opposing views over which "combat management system" to install in two frigates which Hyundai Heavy Industries was building for 18 billion pesos ($360 million) under the military's modernization program.

Mercado's attitude of "orchestrating such unmeritorious issue does not speak well of his leadership for which this department had lost its confidence in him to lead this important major service command," said the letter from Lorenzana, who sought President Rodrigo Duterte's approval to relieve the navy chief from his post.

Mercado did not immediately respond to a request from reporters for comment.

The government has scrambled for years to raise funds to modernize its military, one of Asia's most ill-equipped, to deal with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies and protect its territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea.

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