Palace bent on keeping Calayag; BI turns around

Protest over rice. Members of the women’s group Gabriela trooped to the National Food Authority compound on Wednesday to demand that NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag bring down rice prices. Manny Palmero
A PALACE official debunked Wednesday allegations against the administrator of the National Food Authority, Orlan Calayag, saying he was qualified to hold a government post.
In a statement released to the Palace reporters, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said that a day after the Palace conducted a review and verification process, it appeared that Calayag was qualified to hold a government position despite questions about his citizenship.
“Based on an assessment of the documents provided by Mr. Orlan Calayag, he has met all the qualifications necessary to hold his current position,” Ochoa said in the statement.
Immigration records showed that a certain Orlan Calayag arrived in the country on Dec. 19, 2012 using an American passport.
But Bureau of Immigration spokesperson Ma. Angelica Pedro on Wednesday denied what she told the Manila Standard on Tuesday, that Calayag was a dual citizen.
“The Bureau wants to say for the record that we have not issued any official statement on the matter yet and any statement saying otherwise is entirely false,” Pedro said.
When the Standard interviewed Pedro Tuesday, she replied in the positive when asked if Calayag holds a dual citizenship.
The bureau’s travel records division also sought a formal request before it would release Calayag’s travel records.
Earlier, Coloma said all appointments, including Calayag’s, underwent a vetting process before they reached the President.
“To provide context, there are hundreds of appointments being made that go to the Office of the President, and each one of those appointments goes through a vetting and screening process. So that is what was done in this case and in all other appointments,” Coloma said.
Coloma also denied that Mr. Aquino antedated the tenure of Calayag by six months to skirt the election ban on “midnight” appointments, saying the new administrator merely served the unexpired term of his predecessor, Angelito Banayo, starting Jan. 17.
After he has served the remaining six-month term, Calayag was reappointed on July 12, 2013, Coloma added.
The Palace did not address accusations that Calayag had drawn a salary from the House of Representatives as a “ghost” employee from September 2006 to April 2008, while he was already in the United States working as a caregiver and a clerk.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala on Wednesday reiterated his support for Calayag.
“Calayag is not a dual citizen. Let them produce their evidence that he is not a Filipino citizen. You have to note that he has a Philippine passport,” Alcala said, despite the Bureau of Immigration’s confirmation of his dual citizenship.
“All I can say is he is a Filipino and if the people do not want to believe that, then I cannot do anything,” Alcala said.
Alcala also denied that Calayag continued to get a salary from the House, even when he was in the United States.
“ I am sure that that is not true,” Alcala said.
The executive assistant to Calayag said his boss needed to secure a visa for his meetings with the World Trade Organization, proving his Philippine citizenship.
“Administrator Calayag is 100 percent Filipino and not a dual citizen,” Arpia said.
Arpia added that Calayag had already reacquired his citizenship.
“We do not see this as a violation. His appointment is legal,” Arpia said.
But calls for Calayag to resign mounted.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who had earlier urged other lawmakers to go slow on the issue, on Wednesday urged Alcala to get rid of his crony.
Belmonte said Alcala should not wait for a Question Hour in Congress that may compel him to realize that his appointment of Calayag was a mistake.
“Alcala should get him replaced,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard. “I cannot understand why they don’t just replace him.”
He added that a congressional probe was not a priority, and that Alcala had enough leeway to address the issue “at the soonest possible time.”
Belmonte’s statement came before Immigration backed away from its earlier statement about Calayag’s dual citizenship.
Despite the Speaker’s admonition, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate pushed for an investigation in aid of legislation.
Zarate also renewed his call for Alcala to step down.
Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz agreed.
“The President must end the debate on whether or not Calayag is a Filipino. He should fire Calayag if the latter refuses to resign,” he said.
“The President’s men are being stubborn. They refuse to acknowledge that the issue here is not just the citizenship but also the manner by which Calayag managed to obtain the post despite his being a US citizen, a crony, a midnight appointee, a ghost employee in his previous and only government employment,” Dela Cruz said.
Dela Cruz said the President must compel his men to correct the blunder they have committed in hiring an American citizen when the law and the NFA charter require that only a natural-born Filipino can head an agency that takes care of national food security.
“In the first place, Calayag was made to sit as chief of the NFA when he was still carrying an American passport,” Dela Cruz said.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap also pressed for Calayag to be fired.
“If Calayag will not resign, the next logical step is to remove him as NFA chief,” Hicap said.
“Calayag’s post at NFA is now under question following the expose on his dual citizenship. Filipinos with dual citizenship cannot be appointed to public office unless they renounce their allegiance to their second country,” Hicap said.
Dela Cruz dared Calayag and Alcala to prove that Calayag underwent the process of renouncing his US citizenship.
“I would want to know if Calayag already went to the US Embassy or communicated with his American government to surrender his American passport and to renounce his US citizenship. As far as I know, he arrived here last December via Korean Airlines carrying an American passport,” Dela Cruz said.
Hicap said Calayag is a known associate of Alcala.
“Calayag belongs to Alcala’s inner circle of allies also known as the ‘Quezon Mafia.’ This group of individuals is in control of the DA and its agencies and of course, the Agriculture Department’s multi-million budget,” Hicap said.
Calayag, who is also from Quezon and served as Alcala’s chief of political affairs when he was congressman, was reappointed as NFA chief last July 12, 2013.
“Being in charge of the nation’s food security is a very important and sensitive position. We cannot allow an individual with questionable credentials to head the NFA,” Hicap said.
Calayag was also named by the President to various equally crucial and strategic positions that come with his being NFA administrator.
Calayag now sits as vice chairman of the NFA Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Food Terminal Inc.
Hicap said the Palace should also look into Calayag’s track record at the NFA.
“Under Calayag’s leadership at NFA, rice prices have skyrocketed to almost P40 to P45 per kilo. The Alcala-Calayag tandem failed to stop the rice cartel and failed to bring down the price of rice, making it even more unaffordable for ordinary consumers and wage earners,” Hicap said.
He said prices of commercial and NFA rice have increased since July. With Vito Barcelo, Maricel V. Cruz and Christine F. Herrera

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