Robredo vows to return coco levy fund to farmers if elected President | Inquirer News
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Robredo vows to return coco levy fund to farmers if elected President

By: - Correspondent / @dtmallarijrINQ
/ 01:21 PM November 20, 2021

LUCENA CITY – Vice President and 2022 presidential aspirant Leni Robredo promised Saturday that if elected President, she will address the injustice against the millions of coconut farmers and distribute the controversial multi-billion pesos coconut levy fund to them.

“If I would be lucky to win the presidency, we will propose and consider a priority bill the changes that should be made on the objectionable provisions in the law (Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, or Republic Act No. 11524),” Robredo declared in an interview held Saturday at the DCG Radio-TV Network studio at Maharlika Highway in Barangay Isabang in neighboring Tayabas City. The interview was conducted by Tito Ojeda, an icon in the broadcast industry in Southern Tagalog, and station manager Violet Cabral.

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The vice president has been here since Friday for her two-day consultation with her multi-sectoral supporters in the province.

Robredo said she was not in favor of RA 11524. She argued that that were provisions in it that did not address the “heart and soul” of the coconut levy fund.

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“The objectionable part for me is that representation of farmers there in the management of the fund was inadequate. But there is much representation for the government,” she noted.

She added: “Kapag sinuri natin, wala siyang pagbabago doon sa panahon ni Marcos kaya nga nagkaproblema.”

(If you look at it closer, there is not much difference with during the time of Marcos which is why there was a problem.)

Robredo firmly believed that the coconut levy fund belongs to the farmers. The Philippine Statistics Authority says there are about 3.5 million coconut farmers and workers nationwide.

Under RA 11524, a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan is to be crafted by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Farmer groups demanded stronger participation in the utilization of the fund. However, their sector only secured three of the nine seats on the PCA board.

The other six members were from various government agencies.

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Collected levy fund

The collection of the levy from coconut farmers started in 1971 during the term of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos supposedly to serve the interest of the taxpayers.

But based on various lawsuits after the dictator fled the country in 1986, it was discovered that the collected levy fund was used to invest in, and buy businesses for, the benefit of Marcos and his cronies, notably: the late business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, and the late Clara Lobregat, among others.

Marcos appointed Cojuangco to become head of the PCA, the government agency tasked to collect and manage the collected tax that funded the acquisition of the United Coconut Planters Bank, San Miguel Corporation, oil mills, among many other businesses.

In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that the fund belonged to the government for the benefit of coconut farmers.

The P100-billion fund consists of about P75 billion in cash and the rest in assets, such as coconut mills.

Slow implementation

Danny Carranza, secretary-general of Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan), lamented that less than two months before the end of the roll-out year of the implementation of RA 11524, “coconut farmers continue to wait for the benefit from the recovered coconut levy fund.”

“Amidst the hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the slow implementation of the law that is supposed to benefit small coconut farmers makes life more difficult at this juncture,” he said.

Carranza asked all presidential candidates to take another look at RA 11524.

“See if there are needed reforms to make it more responsive to the long-standing demand of coconut farmers for justice,” he appealed.

Noting that presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son and namesake of the ousted dictator, was leading in presidential surveys, Carranza said: “God forbid, but it will be the height of irony if Bongbong Marcos will be the one to implement the law in 2022.”

Robredo said she was one of the principal authors of a proposed bill for the equitable distribution of the coconut levy fund to the farmers during her stint in Congress.

She noted that their version of the proposed bill was refiled in the present Congress but it was vetoed by President Duterte in 2019.

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TAGS: Coco Levy Fund, Coconut Farmer, robredo
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