Coconut farmers slam Aquino take-over of P56.5 billion coco levy funds

“This is not money that belongs to the government – it belongs to the coconut farmers. And let it be said that we are not incidental beneficiaries here – we are the rightful owners. We demand that the money be released to the coconut farmers.” – Koprahan

By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — It’s not only business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuango who continues to swindle the country’s coconut farmers, the administration of President Benigo Aquino III is also being accused of the same.

Coconut farmers led by the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (KOPRAHAN) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) are adamantly protesting against what they said was the Aquino government’s collusion with Cojuangco to completely deny coconut farmers of the original P75 billion ($1.785 billion) coco levy fund. The group said the coco levy funds that had been earlier declared by the Supreme Court to be legally owned by coconut farmers have been transferred from Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation (SMC) to the coffers of Malacañang.

What’s worse, Koprahan said, is that Malacañang and Pres. Aquino are allegedly aiming to use the funds for the anomalous CCT scheme and to recover Hacienda Luisita.

On April 24, 2012, the SC laid down its final decision ordering the distribution of more than 6,000 hectares of land in the hacienda. Aquino declared that he would respect the high court’s decision provided his family receives ‘just compensation.’ According to latest reports, the Cojuangco family is allegedly asking for P10 billion ($238 million) for the hacienda, but all the same its representatives are reportedly offering P300,000 to P350,000 ($7,100 to $8,300) to farmworker-beneficiaries to renounce their legal claims over the land.

In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Kopharan spokesman and KMP deputy secretary-general Willy Marbella said recent developments in SMC reveal the maneuvers of both Cojuangco and Malacañang. Koparahan has been demanding that the government immediately distribute cash to millions of small coconut farmers after the 24 percent of the controversial coconut levy funds have been declared out of the corporate control of SMC, which presidential uncle Danding Cojuangco chairs.

Last week, the SMC bought back the 24 percent coco levy funds converted into the Series “1” Preferred Shares, effective October 5, 2012, the redemption date of said Preferred Shares.

The Series “1” Preferred Shares represents the original 27 percent of the coco levy fund used in the SMC common shares. The 27 percent has since been diluted to 24 percent and converted into preferred shares by the SC then headed by ex-chief justice Reynato Puno in 2009.

The SC order also stipulated that SMC will have the exclusive option to redeem and purchase on the third year (2012) the 27 percent comprising 753.85 million shares at a fixed price of P75 (US$1.78) per share instead of at the prevailing market price.

“Instead of paying the small coconut farmers’ shares at the prevailing market price, Cojuangco, with the help of the SC, converted the common shares into preferred shares and bought it at a fixed price of P75 ($1.78) instead of the prevailing market price,” Marbella said. He noted that as of 30 November 2010, the value of said common shares was pegged at P120 each ($2.85) , substantially higher than the amount the SMC declared them to be.

The PCGG then remitted the P56.5 billion ($ 1.357 billion) to the National Treasury on Friday, October 5, 2012. This means that the money from the coco levy fund is now under the direct control of Malacañang.

“We are seriously alarmed because our money is now in the hands of the Aquino government. Our money is now very vulnerable to corruption. It is highly probable that the money Cojuangco plundered will be plundered again, this time by the government itself, ” Marbella said. Marbella is a small coconut farmer from Bicol who still holds his father’s certificate of stocks in various coconut oil mills acquired through the coco levy funds.

“Like we said before, we cannot entrust our money to the Aquino government. The only way that we can be assured that the funds will be returned to the rightful owners — the coconut farmers — is if it is administered and managed by the small coconut farmers themselves and their organizations. We cannot trust the government and its agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the National Anti-Poverty-Commission or the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) to not use the money for corrupt purposes,” he said.

It was for this reason, Marbella said, that coconut farmers should not put their faith in Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Funds Aquino created. The DA, NAPC and the DSWD are the members of the said task-force, along with members of the Presidential Management Staff, the PCGG, the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

“Almost four decades have passed since the government then under the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed the coco levy on small coconut farmers and used the funds to enrich himself and his cronies led by Danding Cojuangco. The succeeding governments did not have the moral ascendancy or the genuine commitment to do what was right and just and return the funds to the rightful owners. Now Pres. Aquino has seen nothing immoral or illegal about colluding with his uncle Danding to get his hands on the coco levy fund and use it for self-serving purposes. It’s a serious and appalling violation against the rights of coconut farmers and a slap in the face of those who believed that Aquino is a true fighter against corruption,” he said.

Marbella said there was nothing illegal, moral or just about Aquino’s decision to transfer the funds from the SMC to the national treasury.

“This is not money that belongs to the government – it belongs to the coconut farmers. And let it be said that we are not incidental beneficiaries here – we are the rightful owners. We demand that the money be released to the coconut farmers. Aquino has no right to use even a centavo of the fund,” he said.

Marbella also said that Cojuangco by no means became the loser in the supposed “win-win” solution to the coco levy levy issue.

“Danding still profited billions from this politico-legal-financial masterstroke,” Marbella said.

Aquino’s new coco levy mafia

Last weekend, small coconut farmers from Quezon led by the Koprahan picketed the offices of the NAPC in QC as the agency convened the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Fund. The task force was instructed by Malacañang to to finalize its recommendations on the utilization of the said funds.

Marbella said that any recommendation from the task force that excludes the real and rightful owners of the coco levy funds is unacceptable to small coconut farmers. He said the task force is a “political reincarnation of the coco levy mafia” that plundered the coco levy funds during the Marcos regime. The mafia, he said, was comprised of the PCA, the United Coconut Planters Bank-Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (UCPB-Cocofed).

It was earlier in March when Rocamora confirmed that the Aquino administration was setting up an inter-agency group that would “borrow” the coco levy funds.

“If before there was the coco levy mafia, now there’s the Aquino-led coco levy fund task force. He and his political lieutenants led by NAPC chief Joel Rocamora are scheming over means to use the coco levy fund for fake anti-poverty programs that are actually military-led counter-insurgency operations. The coco levy funds were exacted from our sweat and blood. The likes of Aquino and Rocamora know nothing about the poverty and hardships of coconut farmers and how many sacrifices they have made to recover the money that was taken from them. Aquino is being deliberately deaf and obtuse on this matter because he and his operators want to use the money for their political schemes,” he said.

Marbella told Bulatlat.com that it was also highly probable that Aquino wants to use the coco levy funds to recover Hacienda Luisita.

“It’s not impossible. The SC decision was made in April, it’s now October but the Cojuangco-Aquinos are nowhere near surrendering Hacienda Luisita. The DAR has been little more than inutile in its job to finalize the transfer of ownership to the famer-beneficiaries,” he said.

Finally, both the KMP and Koprahan expressed agreement with the stand made by Senator Joker Arroyo in April this year. Arroyo was critical against the government’s lack of commitment to calls that coco levy fund be returned to the coconut farmers.

“There is no pronouncement from the government that the farmers would be cash recipients of the court decision. They would be incidental beneficiaries when the coconut industry is revived,” Arroyo said last April. “The farmers parted with hard-earned cash, but they would not be given cash in return; they would be given benefits in kind, tools, seedlings, credit facilities, etc. The irony of it all is that the principal beneficiaries, the government and the industry, had not contributed to the coco levy fund,” he said in media reports.

The farmer groups also reiterated calls for the enactment of House Bill 3443 or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration and Management Act filed by Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano. HB 3443 defines the “exclusivity of use of the coco levy funds” to ensure that it is used primarily to the best interests of small coconut farmers. ()

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