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Coco farmers want cash

But solon urges placing P100B in trust fund
Quezon farmers march from Lucena City to Manila on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, to demand the completion of the government’s land reform program and the return of the coconut levy fund. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON FILE PHOTO

In this June 3, 2014 file photo, Quezon farmers march from Lucena City to Manila to demand the completion of the government’s land reform program and the return of the coconut levy fund. DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON FILE PHOTO

LUCENA CITY—Militant farmers want the multibillion-peso coco levy fund to be returned directly to them, but Senator-elect Francis Pangilinan says giving them cash may not be the most effective way of helping them improve their lot.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has directed his legal team to begin moves for the release of the P100-billion coconut levy fund to the farmers.

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Coco levy refers to the tax extracted from coconut farmers during the martial law years, ostensibly for the development of the coconut industry.

“The direct return of the multibillion-peso coconut levy fund to small coconut farmers is long overdue,” Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said in a statement on Friday.

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He said Duterte’s legal team should consider “direct cash distribution” to the farmers and use of the fund for genuine development of the coconut industry.

Flores said the small farmers had prepared a proposal for the distribution of the funds.

Arvin Borromeo, coordinator for Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (Claim)-Quezon movement, also said direct cash aid   would be a just and legitimate solution to the small farmers’ poverty.

Borromeo said the cash aid proposal was not new, adding that it was first put forward by Sen. Joker Arroyo in April 2012.

Trust fund

But Pangilinan sees problems with direct cash distribution.

“There is a need to determine the mechanism to be put in place to release the coco levy fund to the real farmers as envisioned by the incoming administration,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

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If the P72 billion in the national treasury would be distributed outright to 3 million coconut farmers, each farmer would get only around P20,000, he said.

“This is about the same amount a copra farmer earns in one year and will clearly not go very far in addressing the plight of the impoverished farmer,” he said.

Pangilinan said he would refile a bill that would establish a perpetual trust fund for the P72 billion in the treasury, with the interest to be used in financing programs for the farmers.

He said the Supreme Court had ruled that the coco levy fund is a public fund, and should be used only for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry.

Use of the fund should be in accordance with law, he said.

Farmers’ fund

KMP and Claim propose the establishment of a “Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund,” which will not be part of the general funds and will be used only for the benefit of coconut farmers.

Cojuangco’s shares

Under the proposal, the entire coco levy fund and its assets, including but not limited to United Coconut Planters Bank and the coconut oil mills that were acquired using the fund, will be administered and used for the benefit of small farmers and of the coconut industry in support of national industrialization.

Aside from direct cash distribution, the farmers’ groups also want the incoming Duterte administration to recover the shares representing 20 percent of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) held by businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.

“Cojuangco must also be held accountable for the plunder of the fund,” Flores said.

Cojuangco’s shares were part of the 47-percent SMC share block sequestered by the government after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

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