“We are not incidental beneficiaries of the coco levy funds. It was cash that was taken and stolen from us by the Marcos-Cojuangco clique; it’s only fair and just that cash is also returned to us.” – Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM)
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Not so fast, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. Your promises are no good, and the coconut farmers need cash.
Coconut farmers led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan) have formed the alliance Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) in a program in Pagbilao, Quezon province to systematize their campaign to recover the multi-billion coconut levy funds.The coco levy funds amount to P70 billion ($1.66 billion) representing a 24-percent block of San Miguel Corp. shares recovered by the government.
The gathering dubbed “Coco Levy Funds Claimants’ Summit” was attended by farmers from Quezon and Aurora provinces, Bicol region, Eastern Visayas, Panay, and Mindanao.
KMP deputy secretary-general Willy Marbella said coconut farmers are issuing a direct call to President Benigno Aquino III that they “want our money back.”
Marbella is a small coconut farmer from Bicol who still holds his father’s certificates of stocks in various oil mills, said “coconut farmers have all the right to claim their money from the Aquino government.”
“Again, we are not incidental beneficiaries of the coco levy funds. It was cash that was taken and stolen from us by the Marcos-Cojuangco clique; it’s only fair and just that cash is also returned to us,” he said.
Marbella said the question of control is very crucial especially that the money is now in the hands of the Aquino government.
“We don’t trust the Aquino government to exercise control over the coco levy funds. The government did not even contribute a single centavo to the funds.”Marbella said small coconut farmers “who still hold their receipts and certificates of stocks in coco oil mills are welcome to attend the summit.”
Marbella explained that the summit would be followed by provincial, municipal, up to barrio-level assemblies that includes screening, verification, and enlistment of small coconut farmer-claimants.
It a manifesto, Claim declared that “the coco levy funds was forcibly exacted and plundered from small coconut farmers by the Marcos dictatorship and should be returned to them. For more than four decades, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., President Aquino’s uncle, controlled and benefited from these funds.”
“We strongly call for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds. This legitimate and just demand addresses the worsening poverty and hunger suffered by small coconut farmers,” the manifesto declared.
Invest the coco levy funds
Last weekend, Alcala told the media that coconut farmers should not expect to get cash from the coco levy fund because the Supreme Court issued a decision that it belongs to the government and should be used for the benefit of the farmers and the coconut industry.
Alcala said that he was not in favor of “individual distribution” of the coco levy funds. He said the funds should instead be used to develop and modernize the industry, and the benefits will “trickle down to the poorest coconut farmer.”
Alcala said what should be done is to develop the industry, not the individual coconut farmers.
“If we make it individual, we won’t ever be able to use the money until Judgment Day’s eve,” was quoted as saying.
In a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Alacala said the coco levy fund should not be distributed in cash, neither should it be used for the conditional cash transfer program. He said that if the coco levy is distributed, there will be problems in the process, particularly in the means of identifying legitimate beneficiaries.
“But the final decision still rests with the President,” he said.
He also said that he favors suggestions that the coco levy money be invested in conservative financial instruments, a well as in annual interest programs that will benefit the coconut industry. He said the P70 billion ($1.66 billion) might well generate interest between P2 to P5 billion ($47.6 million to $119 million).
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares immediately expressed disagreemenT, “First, Sec. Alcala should know that the money is not his and therefore its disposition is not for him to decide. He probably failed to see it, but while he finds useless and without impact the distribution of the funds to individual farmers, he supports the conditional cash transfer of more than 70 Billion pesos to individuals who do not even own the cash. If Sec. Alcala is courageous enough to follow through his analysis we challenge him to publicly criticize Aquino’s CCT policy and declare the CCT as a useless economic tool that will not benefit the country,” he said.
Colmenares also said Alacala’s idea of withholding the funds for the coconut industry as another lump sum fund will most likely result in corruption or mis-prioritization. He said Alacala’s promise of “developing the industry” and “trickle down benefits” were the same promises made by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies to the coconut farmers 30 years ago.
“If he pushes through with this plan, we assure him a major, major scrutiny on all the Commission on Audit reports on his department and a major major scrutiny on his budget next year,” Colmenares said.
Distribute the funds in cash
The immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers was first floated by Senator Joker Arroyo last April.
“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. “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.”
Echoing Arroyo, Claim said the House of Representatives should approve House Bill 3443 or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration and Management Act filed by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano “to ensure the control of small coconut farmers over the funds and not by corrupt bureaucrats of the Aquino government.”
“HB 3443 will guarantee that we will benefit from the funds through socio-economic projects for small coconut farmers’ organizations and cooperatives,” it said.
The Claim said it also rejects the Malacañang-created Task Force Coco Levy Funds headed by the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) and condemns the so-called Poverty Reduction Roadmap of the Coconut Industry.”
“We will never allow Aquino and Rocamora [NAPC head] to use our money for CTT and the and the anti-peasant Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” it’s spokesman Marbella said.
“We demand that the Aquino government respect our rights as rightful owners of the coco levy funds and allow us to decide what to do with the fund. Thousands of coconut farmers would much rather recover the money taken from them and the interest generated from it and make use of it on their own terms. It is our money, so we should be the ones to decide how we want to use or dispense with it. The Aquino government has no right to dictate how the coco levy fund should be used — we have all seen how the government handles money supposedly kept in trust for the public: it either squanders it or uses it for corrupt and self-serving purposes,” he said.