MANILA - The Department of Agriculture (DA) may face another controversy even before questions on the importation of Vietnamese rice are resolved, this time in connection with the leadership in the National Food Authority (NFA).
Lawyer Argee Guevarra yesterday accused Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala of appointing an American citizen as head of the NFA.
Guevarra said NFA administrator Orlan Calayag is an American citizen. He accused Alcala of turning the DA into his own personal playground, appointing members of his “Quezon mafia” to the department.”
Alcala is a former congressman of Quezon.
“These very same people have been repeatedly accused of involvement in various acts of corruption including the Napoles pork barrel fund scam, yet they seem to continue to enjoy the confidence of Alcala, their political benefactor,” Guevarra told reporters in Manila yesterday.
“Calayag is an American citizen leading the charge for national food security. Since when did our laws, including the NFA charter, allow for the appointment of someone who has renounced his Filipino citizenship in order to acquire a foreign one?” he asked.
Calayag, a former aide of Alcala when the latter was still Quezon congressman, flew from the United States back to the Philippines on Dec. 19, 2011 bearing US Passport No.462971672.
He has since acquired dual citizenship as American and Filipino on Jan. 7, 2013 or six months after his appointment as NFA administrator that took effect on July 1, 2012.
“How was Alcala able to dupe the President into signing Calayag’s appointment in the first place? Even assuming he has regained dual citizenship, still, that does not qualify him for appointment in our bureaucracy,” explained Guevarra.
Citing jurisprudence in Maquiling vs. Comelec (G.R. No. 195649, 16 April 2013) and Mercado vs. Manzano (G.R. No. 135083, 26 May 1999), Guevarra argued: “First, one who renounces his Philippine citizenship when he became an American citizen is no longer a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; second, even when he became a dual citizen under RA No. 9225 he does not automatically re-acquire his status as a natural-born citizen of the Philippines.”
The NFA charter states that its administrator must be a natural-born Filipino.
Calayag’s appointment into the NFA, “absent the vetting process required under the Government Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCC) Reform Law 1,” according to Guevarra, also made him chairman of the Food Terminals Inc. and director of the Philippine Fisheries Development Corp.
“This is precisely the kind of mindset that breeds corruption in the DA. When, with impunity, its officials think that they are above the law and can circumvent it at will,” said Guevarra who first exposed the alleged P457-million overpricing in the DA and NFA’s government-to-government rice importation transaction in April.
The transaction is currently under investigation by both the Senate and House of Representatives.
This week, congressional representatives, COOP NATCCO party-list Rep. Anthony Bravo and Laguna 3rd District Rep. Sol Aragones appealed for “wiser government spending” in the agriculture sector, while Agri-Agra Reporma Para sa Magsasakang Pilipinas (AGRI) party-list Rep. Delph Gan Lee filed House Bill 2936 seeking to end the “NFA’s monopoly on rice importation” as it has supposedly “adversely contributed to the price of the staple grain.”
Rice prices in September hit all-time highs even as the NFA invested heavily in government-led importations, spending $94.5 million or more than P4 billion to import 205,700 metric tons of rice from Vietnam in April 2013, and some P1.7 billion in importation duties and taxes.