Coconut farmers vow to campaign vs Aquino candidatesBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Disappointed with President Benigno Aquino III’s continued silence on coco levy issue despite the recent Supreme Court final ruling that the multi-billion pesos 24-percent block of sequestered shares in San Miguel Corp. (SMC) belong to the government for its use to benefit the coconut farmers, a peasant group warned that the administration candidates will be rejected in next year’s election.
“The millions of coconut farmers across the country would surely wage a reject Aquino candidates campaign if the President would still maintain his deepening silence on the issue of coco levy,” Jansept Geronimo, secretary general of the Coalition of Coconut Farmers of Quezon, said in an interview Friday.
Quezon farmers are believed to be the biggest contributor to the coconut levy fund.
“The long suffering coconut farmers will reject politicians who will kowtow to the subservient attitude of President Aquino to the vested interest behind the continued legal maneuver of the coco levy fund,” Geronimo said.
Business tycoon and SMC chair Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., President Aquino’s uncle, holds a separate 20-percent block of SMC shares worth at least P85 billion that the farmers claimed were also bought with coco levy funds.
The Supreme Court ruled last year upholding Cojuangco’s claim that the 20 percent SMC shares belonged to him legally. Various coconut farmer groups are now appealing to the court to reopen the case.
Oscar Santos, a former Quezon congressman and administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority during the term of President Corazon Aquino, also joined the call to Mr. Aquino to speak up and support the struggle of the coconut farmers for the recovery of the multi-billion pesos coconut levy fund.
Santos urged the President to “speak up now before it’s too late.”
“The millions of coconut farmers, most of them now old, sick and dying, are waiting Mr. President,” Santos said.
The octogenarian lawyer activist appealed to President Aquino to give his “go signal” for the use of the 24 percent SMC shares which have a minimum value estimated to be worth P50 to 100 billion to benefit the more than 20 million coconut farmers and their families.
“The bureaucracy is always slow to act. It always needs a go signal from the President especially on a sensitive matter like the coconut levy,” Santos said in a phone interview.
Santos said the millions of coconut farmers had long been waiting to taste the benefits of the coco levy fund.
“The levy was the product of their blood, sweat and tears forcefully imposed unto them by the repressive state during the dark days of martial law,” Santos said.
Santos, said the money from the coco levy fund will benefit the more than 21,000 coconut producing villages scattered across the country.
Santos and Geronimo both asked the President to give his support for the immediate passage of the pending bills of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III calling for the creation of a trust fund committee that would managed the coco levy fund.
Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also warned President Aquino against borrowing the coco levy funds in the government so-called anti-poverty programs.
“Borrowing the funds is precisely the same alibi used by Danding (Cojuangco) to cover up the crime of plunder and strengthen his control over the coco levy funds,” Marbella said.
In a nine-page resolution dated Sept. 4 and issued Thursday, the high tribunal has affirmed with finality the 2004 Sandiganbayan ruling that awarded to the government the 24-percent block of SMC shares acquired with the funds from the coconut levy imposed during the martial law years.