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Return of coco levy fund tops farmers’ wish

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The life of this coconut worker may be alleviated if the coconut levy is returned to him, and other rightful owners. DELFIN MALLARI JR./ INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

LUCENA CITY—Coconut farmers have not gotten tired of making the return of the multibillion coconut levy fund the No. 1 item on their New Year’s wish list.

“It is not an impossible wish. What they were asking is the return of their money for their benefit,” Jansepth Geronimo, spokesperson of the national people’s organization Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan, said on Sunday.

He said the farmers’ plea to President Aquino for the return of the coco levy fund has fallen on deaf ears. “Maybe, just maybe, their wish will be heard and granted this time by whoever will replace President Aquino after the election,” he said.

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He said several coconut farmer groups across the country were planning demonstrations next year to challenge presidential aspirants Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Sen. Grace Poe, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Miriam Santiag to make known their stand on the coconut levy issue.

He said the farmers would not buy motherhood statements from candidates and would ask for concrete steps how they intend to return the fund to the coconut farmers.

“All national candidates had long been promising the heaven to the poor coconut farmers every election. They were already fed up with campaign rhetoric … The coconut farmers are much wiser now,” Geronimo said.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government earlier estimated the coco levy assets to be worth about P83 billion—P73 billion in cash (liquidated shares from the food giant San Miguel Corp. or SMC) and P10 billion in shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank and oil mills operated by the Coconut Industry Investment Fund.

The recovered fund is expected to benefit more than 20 million coconut farmers and their families from some 21,000 coconut-producing villages across the country.

“Most of the original contributors to the fund were now old, sick and dying. But they never give up hopes that they can still taste the benefits of their own money,” Geronimo said.

Among the presidential candidates, Binay and Poe have publicly declared they would return the fund to the farmers if elected President.

Farmers from Quezon, a major coconut-producing province, are believed to be the biggest contributors to the coco levy fund exacted during the Marcos regime.

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The fund and its assets were sequestered by the government after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in the people power uprising of 1986.

The Supreme Court has ruled the levy as public fund and should be used by the government for the benefit of coconut farmers and to develop the coconut industry.

Last March, President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 179, which governs the disposition and privatization of recovered coco levy-funded and EO No. 180, which provides the guidelines for the use of the recovered P74.3 billion from SMC. But its implementation was halted after coconut farmers obtained a restraining order from the Supreme Court.

Last October, the House of Representatives passed the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, or House Bill No. 6135, creating a permanent trust to manage the coco levy funds for the benefit of local coconut farmers and the coconut industry.

Coconut farmers again rejected HB No. 6135, saying it was a ìcopycatîù of EOs No. 179 and 180.
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THE LIFE of this coconut worker may be alleviated if the coconut levy is returned to him. DELFIN MALLARI JR./ INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

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TAGS: 2016 elections, coco levy funds, Coconut Levy, Presidential Commission on Good Government
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