Coco farmers threaten to dump LP betsBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—The continuous silence of President Benigno Aquino on the coconut levy issue could boomerang on the Liberal Party (LP) in next year’s polls, said several farmers’ groups on Tuesday who have united to campaign against the administration senatorial candidates.
“We challenge Aquino to break his silence on the coconut levy issue, otherwise millions of small coconut farmers across the country will not hesitate to dump his senatorial ticket,” Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said in a phone interview.
The multibillion-peso coconut levy fund is expected to benefit more than 20 million coconut farmers and their families living in more than 21,000 coconut-producing villages across the country.
Jansept Geronimo, secretary general of Coalition of Coconut Farmers of Quezon, the biggest coalition of coconut farmers’ organizations in Quezon, said they have already formed the nucleus of their “reject Aquino bets” campaign teams and are now ready to reach out to different coconut farmers’ groups across the country.
The farmers’ groups urged Congress to pass Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano’s House Bill No. 3443 that seeks to constitute the coconut levy fund into a Coconut Farmers Fund to rehabilitate and develop the coconut industry.
They also pushed for Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada’s House Bill No. 5070, which seeks to finance programs that would increase the coconut farmers’ productivity, develop coconut-based enterprises and promote antipoverty programs.
The leaders of the farmers groups, however, differed in their recommendations on how to use the fund.
Marbella, also the spokesperson of Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan), is pushing for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers.
He said that in Quezon province alone, around 204,000 coconut farm-families dependent on 388,664 hectares of coconut lands would benefit from the immediate distribution of the coco levy funds.
However, Geronimo subscribed to the proposal of their lawyer, Marco Sardillo III, to keep the fund intact as a perpetual trust fund for the coconut industry.
In an interview on Monday, Sardillo, former executive director of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), maintained that keeping the fund intact, until a law is passed and policies are set and determined on how best to benefit the coconut farmers, would serve the best interest of the future generations of coconut farmers.
On Friday, San Miguel Corp. announced that it had paid the Coconut Industry Investment Fund—the administrator of the coconut levy fund—P56.5 billion in proceeds from the redemption of its Series 1 preferred shares. The PCGG eventually remitted the money to the National Treasury.
Quezon farmers are believed to be the biggest contributors to the coco levy fund that was forcefully exacted from coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982 during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime, supposedly to develop the coconut industry.