“Once again, the government will provide the infrastructure for the benefit of big guns in the coconut industry at the expense of small coconut farmers. It is totally revolting that P305 million of small coconut farmers money will be spent for the so-called agro-industrial estate project that will only benefit local and foreign agri-businesses.” – Willy Marbella, KMP
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Braving heavy downpour, some 500 small coconut farmers from Bicol and Quezon provinces did not let yesterday pass without opposing government’s plans to use coco levy fund for purposes they deemed not beneficial to them.
The small coconut farmers belonging to the Bicol Coconut Planters Association Inc. (BCPAI) and Pinag-isang Lakas ng mga Magsasaka sa Quezon (Piglas-Quezon) marched from the Department of Agriculture to the residence of President Benigno Aquino III at Times Street in Quezon City.
The protest marked the 40th year of the establishment of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF). On August 20, 1973, then president Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Decree 276 authorizing the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to collect “a levy, initially, of P15 ($0.34) per 100 kilograms of copra resicada or its equivalent in other coconut products” from coconut farmers. According to PD 276, “the proceeds from the levy shall be deposited with the Philippine National Bank or any other government bank to the account of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund, as a separate trust fund which shall not form part of the general fund of the government.”
“It has been 40 years… and still, justice remains elusive,” Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and a coconut farmer himself, said, adding that the levy collected from coco farmers even increased to P100 ($2.28) per 100 kilo during that time.
Marbella, also national coordinator of Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM), said that 40 years after, “the bulk of the coco levy funds and assets are now under the control of the Aquino administration and is in danger of being plundered again.”
Marbella said the Aquino administration included the coco levy funds in the 2014 national budget “without the consent and approval of the real owners, and against the interest of small coconut farmers themselves.”
In the proposed P2.3 billion ($52.37 million) budget of the PCA for next year, P305 million ($6.94 million) would be allocated for the establishment of “Agro-Industrial Hubs” in five regions, namely, Region IV-A – CALABARZON, Region V- Bicol, Region VI – Western Visayas, Region VIII – Eastern Visayas, and Region IX – Zamboanga Peninsula.
Marbella said the use of coco levy fund for the so-called agro-industrial hubs is highly questionable. “Once again, the government will provide the infrastructure for the benefit of big guns in the coconut industry at the expense of small coconut farmers. It is totally revolting that P305 million of small coconut farmers money will be spent for the so-called agro-industrial estate project that will only benefit local and foreign agri-businesses,” Marbella said.
Marbella also questioned the special provision in the Department of Agrarian Reform’s 2014 budget stating that the DAR shall prioritize the acquisition and distribution of unacquired and undistributed coconut lands.
During the budget deliberations of the DAR last August 8, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio delos Reyes said the more than 287,000 hectares of coconut lands will be acquired by the PCA for distribution.
“Using our money for the acquisition of coco lands and compensation for big landlords and at the same time collecting amortization from small coconut farmers is totally unacceptable,” Marbella said. “They did not give back to us our money and now, they still want us to pay. Ginigisa kami sa sarili naming mantika ng gobyernong Aquino.”
Marbella noted that the special provisions of DAR’s 2014 budget proposal bear similarities to the wordings used by the National Anti-Poverty Commission in its so-called roadmap for the coconut industry, which intends to use the coco levy funds for the agrarian reform program of the government. “Only big landlords will benefit from this program,” Marbella said.
The PCA, DA, DAR and NAPC, along with the Presidential Management Staff, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management compose the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Funds.
Bert Autor, chairman of the BCPAI, said, “We protest the Aquino government’s hell bent insistence to use our money, the multi-billion coco levy funds, for the benefit of local and foreign agri-businesses and big landlords.”
Marbella reminded the Aquino administration that the government is “only a trustee” of the multi-billion coco levy funds. “The genuine and legitimate owners of the billions of coco levy funds are the small coconut farmers. The funds were forcibly exacted from them during the Marcos regime,” he said.
Both the KMP and CLAIM reiterated their demand for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds “in the form of social benefits including but not limited to pension benefits, medical and hospitalization benefits, maternity benefits, and educational assistance including scholarships, among others.”
Such demand is contained in House Bill 1327 or the “Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund Act of 2013” filed by Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap. They called on Congress to tackle the said bill.