MANILA -- Despite the controversies surrounding the PHP18 -billion Frigate Acquisition Program (FAP), former Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado still wants the project to push through as the two ships will give the PN its much needed punch in protecting the country's vast maritime territories.

He made this announcement during a chance interview in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Monday.

"Well, sa amin lang naman is I like that frigate (project to push through) because everyone in the Navy wants that frigate (to be completed) kasi it's a combat ship, anong mangyayari sa Navy natin kung walang punch 'di ba, you cannot (only have) transport ships, we should have a punch, the frigate is the capital ship, and this is the first time in the history of the PN that we will have a frigate newly constructed tapos missile capable (and can defeat) air, surface and undersea (threats)," Mercado added.

The FAP contract worth PHP18 billion, including the weapon systems and munitions, was won by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries. It will be armed with a variety of missiles and guns capable of defeating various threats.

With regard to claims that he is pushing for a particular brand of combat management system (CMS) for the frigates, Mercado said he was only standing for the original position of the PN regarding the equipment it wants for its ships.

He added that the system the Navy wanted is more proven and in use in many naval forces in the world.

Earlier, Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano claimed that FAP project is replete with anomalies and that its design was altered from the original.

This includes the alleged preference for the Hanwha CMS, the lawmaker said.

Aside from this, there are claims that Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher 'Bong' Go allegedly interfered with the FAP.

However, this allegation was dismissed by the Department of National Defense (DND) last week.

"The President has already addressed the issue of the alleged 'intervention' of the SAP Christopher “Bong” Go in the PN Frigate Acquisition Project," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

"The Secretary of National Defense (Delfin Lorenzana) is confirming that no intervention or interference by Secretary Bong Go happened. The document that the SND alluded to have been given to him by Secretary Bong Go was handed to him at the Palace, so he assumed that it came from Secretary Go, the Special Assistant to the President and Chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). It should be noted that the one of the tasks of the PMS includes the official routing and endorsement of documents to government agencies concerned, for appropriate action," he added.

Andolong said the subject document originated from Hanwha, one of the proponents for the CMS who were post-qualified by the PN for the FAP.

"The SND forwarded it to then Flag-Officer-In-Command of the Philippine Navy (then Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado) for appropriate action, who, in turn, gave it to then Commodore (now Rear Admiral) Robert Empedrad, the Chairperson of the Frigate Project Management Team at the time. Admiral Empedrad wrote a reply to the document stating the preferred CMS of the Philippine Navy, subject to the terms and conditions of the contract," he added.

The DND spokesperson said there was neither hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Go to influence the implementation of the project.

"There is a contract for the FAP which was crafted mainly by the Philippine Navy and it will be implemented strictly to the letter," Andolong pointed out. (PNA)