Palace to coco farmers: Be patientBy TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Coconut farmers may have to wait a little longer for President Aquino to come up with a clear-cut policy on the disposition of the P70-billion recovered coco levy fund assets.
The presidential task force on the coco levy was still finalizing Tuesday its recommendations to the President concerning the custody and utilization of the funds, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Tuesday.
The disposition of the coco levy funds was a complex issue that involves many stakeholders, so that all possible solutions are being explored, she said.
“Just because we are not saying anything doesn’t mean we’re not doing anything. It’s difficult at this point because there are many groups invested in the issue,” Valte said at a press briefing.
Coconut farmers’ groups are demanding that the P70 billion in recovered coco levy fund assets that were used to buy a 24-percent stake in San Miguel Corp. (SMC) be “returned” to them. They have been critical of Mr. Aquino’s continuing silence on the issue.
Valte could not say if the farmers would get an answer from the President before the year ends.
“The task force is aware of the pendency of this issue and they are working to the best of their abilities to make sure that all issues are answered,” she said.
She said the task force, convened in December 2011, was to have reconvened last Oct. 5 to finalize their recommendations in the light of the Supreme Court final ruling on the ownership of a 24-percent block of SMC shares.
The 24-percent block was part of a 47-percent block of SMC shares sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) on the ground that these were illegally acquired by the dummies of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos using funds from a forced tax imposed on coconut farmers from 1973 to the 1980s.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the 24 percent (originally 27 percent but diluted and reduced because of SMC’s expansion) belonged to the government in trust for the country’s coconut farmers.
But the high court ruled that the remaining 20-percent block claimed by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco had been legally acquired by the crony that Marcos had appointed as administrator of the levy funds.
Coconut farmers’ organizations in Quezon province yesterday said they are asking for only one Christmas gift from Mr. Aquino, that he resolve the issue of the coco levy funds in their favor.
“We want to hear him (Aquino) declare his plans for the P70-billion coco levy fund and how he will use it for the benefit of the coconut farmers. His favorable declaration will be his best Christmas gift for the more than three million coconut farmers across the country,” said Jansept Geronimo, secretary general of Coalition of Coconut Farmers of Quezon (Coco-Farm-Quezon), the biggest coalition of coconut farmers’ organizations in the province. With Daniel Mallari, Inquirer Southern Luzon