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Solons slam NFA mess

OPPOSITION lawmakers on Monday demanded the resignation of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for compromising food security by hiring an inexperienced US citizen and crony to head the National Food Authority.
The Palace declined to answer questions about the NFA chief’s qualifications, saying these were better directed at Alcala. A spokesman for the President added that they would have to check their records and respond to the questions Tuesday, since Monday was a holiday.
For the second day, neither Alcala nor Calayag responded to calls or text messages.
In separate press statements, Gabriela Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Luz Ilagan, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Quezon Rep. Aleta Suarez also demanded that NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag, Alcala’s prot?g?, relinquish his post immediately.
The lawmakers also held President Benigno Aquino III ultimately responsible for the “anomalous appointment.”
“The buck stops with President Aquino who signed Calayag’s appointment papers. It is imperative upon the chief executive to right the wrongs of this appointment by holding accountable Alcala, Calayag and his other proteges still lurking around,” De Jesus said.
She added that food security was compromised when the nationality the NFA’s top official was in doubt.
De Jesus also blamed the NFA for approving “irregular importations” and for foisting poor quality but expensive rice on the consuming public.
“Now we get this report that the NFA administrator Orlan Calayag is a midnight appointee and a naturalized Filipino citizen, in violation of NFA rules,” she said.
De Jesus said Congress should begin investigating the growing number of scandals being unearthed at the Agriculture Department and NFA.
She said during budget deliberations at the House, Alcala offered evasive explanations of why the retail price of rice, which consumers said was unfit for consumption, had doubled.
Calayag holds other positions by virtue of his position at the NFA. He is also vice chairman of the NFA council, chairman of the Food Terminal, Inc., and a board member of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority. He became administrator in July 2012, even while his predecessor Angelito Banayo was still in office, and would not leave for another three months.
“If Secretary Alcala can still process the word delicadeza, he should resign his position now,” said Bayan Muna’s Zarate.
Zarate said the circumstances behind Calayag’s appointment were “tainted with anomalies, including his American citizenship and failure to undergo the vetting process mandated by law.
The Romualdez bloc in the House also called on Alcala to resign, following revelations that his agency was involved in the pork barrel scam and other scandals.
Romualdez said Alcala should give way for an in-depth investigation in connection with the release of the P89.2 million in pork barrel that was disbursed to a bogus non-government organization owned by the alleged mastermind of the scam, Janet Lim Napoles.
“Out of delicadeza, Secretary Alcala should resign... There are so many issues that have remained unresolved as of the moment and these affect the credibility of the institution,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said there are other competent people who could replace Alcala. He suggested former senator Francis Pangilinan, who handled the Senate committee on agriculture during the 15th Congress.
Suarez said resigning or taking a leave of absence is the best thing that Alcala can offer to show his sincerity and commitment to President Aquino’s program of accountability and transparency.
“I expect Secretary Alcala to be sensitive enough to the call of the people. He should leave the DA and submit himself to investigation,” she said.
Pressed for comment on the Calayag appointment, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda texted one line to reporters Monday: “We defer to Secretary Alcala on this matter.”
Presidential Communication Operation Office secretary Herminio Coloma begged off requests for comment and said the Palace would release a statement Tuesday.
“The earliest we can issue our statement is tomorrow morning as we have to check records,” Coloma said.
A staff member from the office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa said that they would answer questions about Calayag Tuesday, after Monday’s barangay elections.
“There is no office today as it is a holiday. So may we get back to you tomorrow and allow us to check on the records first?,” the staff member said in a text message.
Over the weekend, sources said the President had antedated the tenure of Calayag by six months to skirt the election ban on “midnight” appointments. This resulted in the NFA having two administrators during that period, as the NFA administrator had yet to vacate his post.
Before his appointment, records showed, Calayag was a “ghost employee” who received millions of pesos in compensation from the House of Representatives even while he was in the United States.
When Aquino signed Calayag’s appointment papers, the Palace described the American citizen as a “management expert.”
“But his own personal data submitted to the Palace belied his being a management expert as his own qualification and only experience in government service was his being a close employee and crony to
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala,” said one Palace source who requested anonymity.
From July 1, 2004 to August 31, 2008, Calayag served as Alcala’s chief political affairs officer when the Agriculture secretary was a congressman representing Quezon.
But the same data sheet submitted to Malacañang showed Calayag continued receiving his pay in the House for two years, from September 2006 to April 2008, while he was already in America working as a caregiver and a clerk.
As a ghost employee, Calayag managed to collect more than P2 million in compensation, official records show.
“Calayag continues to receive millions in compensation and perks as NFA administrator and American citizen. He did not renounce his US citizenship,” the Palace source said.
Calayag also enjoys per diems from board meetings and a budget of P3 million in intelligence funds, the Palace sources said.
Also on Monday, a lawyer for rice importers whose shipments been impounded chided the NFA and the Agriculture Department for unlawfully holding their goods.
Lawyer Benito Salazar, legal counsel representing Silent Royalty Marketing and Starcraft International, advised officials of the NFA, particularly Calayag “to become better acquainted with the laws regarding rice importation” as the agency’s communications to his client “betray an ignorance of international trade agreements that reflects poorly on the competency and capability of those tasked to manage such a critical agency.”
Salazar was reacting to statements made by Calayag that his clients, Starcraft International and Silent Royalty Marketing, among other consignees, were allegedly involved in rice smuggling in Davao.
Calayag said he has asked the Bureau of Customs to file the necessary charges against the alleged rice smugglers, as well as the concerned Customs personnel allegedly involved.
“We take exception to the statements of the NFA and emphasize that all rice shipments of Starcraft International and Silent Royalty Marketing have been fully declared as rice; there has been no misdeclaration of the said shipments, no attempts to hide anything,” Salazar said.
“How can the NFA accuse us of smuggling rice into the country when my clients openly declared that they were importing rice into the country without an import permit?”
Salazar said the companies told the NFA that with the expiration of quantitative restrictions under the World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the rice shipments no longer required import permits.
But Calayag wrote back demanding an explanation within five days, and warned that failure to submit a reply would be deemed a waiver on the company’s “right to be heard on the matter.”
Calayag also threatened to submit the case to authorities for “appropriate action.”
But Salazar said the regime of granting rice import quotas and permits was based on the extension of the Philippines’ right to impose quantitative restrictions on rice imports, which expired in June 2012.
The government, Salazar said, cannot legally hold any shipment of rice, but can only impose the proper tariff. With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan and Rey E. Requejo
 

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