Form coco levy fund group, farmers urge AquinoBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—An alliance of coconut farmers’ organizations in Quezon on Sunday appealed to President Benigno Aquino to set up immediately a mechanism to manage the P56.5-billion coconut levy fund from the proceeds of the bulk of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) shares.
“Setting up a trusted body to supervise the dispensation of the fund for the benefit of the coconut industry, as well as the millions of old and dying farmers, is an urgent task for President Aquino,” said Jansept Geronimo, secretary of the Coalition of Coconut Farmers of Quezon.
Geronimo expressed worry that Malacañang had yet to organize a committee with coconut farmers’ representatives to address the issue of how to use effectively the recovered assets.
P56.5B in proceeds
On Friday, SMC announced that it had paid the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF)—the administrator of the coconut levy fund—P56.5 billion in proceeds from the redemption of its Series 1 preferred shares. The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) eventually remitted the money to the National Treasury.
Malacañang, however, has yet to announce how it would use the money although it has come up with “motherhood pronouncements” that the money will be used to help rehabilitate the dying coconut industry through research and development projects, as well as livelihood programs for coconut farmers, Geronimo said.
He called on the President to support Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” R. Tañada III’s House Bill No. 5070, which aims to establish the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund to help end the social injustice to the peasants.
Geronimo noted that farmers had been receiving disturbing information that part of the multibillion-peso fund would be used by Malacañang for its antipoverty program.
The Presidential Task Force on Coconut Levy headed by Secretary Joel Rocamora of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) announced earlier that the Aquino administration would set up an interagency group to borrow the coco levy funds for the government’s antipoverty program. The group would include NAPC and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
‘Sick, old, dying’
“They could not do that. That money belongs to coconut farmers. Most of them are now sick, old and dying from long years of desperate waiting for the return of the coconut levy fund,” Geronimo said.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano warned the President against dipping his hands into the coco levy fund. For decades, Mariano said, the farmers had fought hard to recover the fund from Mr. Aquino’s uncle, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.
“We won’t allow the President to intervene and use the funds only for his personal interests as what his uncle did,” the party-list lawmaker said in a statement.
Willie Marbella, deputy secretary general of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan, urged Mr. Aquino to order the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to millions of small coconut farmers.
“Now that the 24 percent of the coco levy fund is free from Danding’s control, we demand that the government immediately pave the way for the money’s immediate return to the small coconut farmers,” Marbella said in a statement.
Mariano is also pushing for the passage of his measure, House Bill No. 3443, or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration Management Act, which sought to constitute the proceeds from the sale of the SMC shares into a Coconut Farmers Fund for the rehabilitation and development of the industry.