By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Manila–The peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan) have called attention to the Aquino administration’s formation of a coco levy task force that it placed under the supervision of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC). The group insisted that the task force now headed by NAPC head Joel Rocamora only aims to take over the coco levy funds and use it to finance the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
The two farmers’ groups said Malacañang should abolish the task force coco levy.
In response, Malacañang spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a recent interview said that the administration had enough funds to support the CCT and that it will not use the coco levy funds.
“There’s no truth to that. The funding for our CCT comes from the national budget and a part of it from a loan that we took out two years ago,” Valte said in last weekend’s radio briefing over state-run radio dzRB.
KMP secretary general Willy Marbella scoffed at the official’s attempt to dismiss the issue, saying that either Valte is not privy to the coco levy fund matters or is bluntly “lying to cover up the scheme.” Marbella is also the spokesman of Koprahan.
“Besides, we did not say that Malacañang is already using our money, what we’ve said is they are ‘planning to use’ it. Valte should also stop lying that the government has enough funds for the CCT when the truth is it slashed the budget of the National Food Authority, an agency supposedly devoted for farmers, just to finance this dole-out program,” he said.
Marbella said the farmers’ worst fears were confirmed during their dialogue with Philippine Coconut Authority (Philcoa) administrator Euclides Forbes. Forbes reportedly admitted that the NAPC is a member and that Secretary Joel Rocamora himself presides over the meetings of the Palace-created task force on the coco levy funds.
“This is a strong indication that the Aquino administration is up to something very fishy involving the coco levy funds,” he said.
Marbella said the NAPC and Rocamora have no business over the coco levy fund recovery from the hands of the president’s uncle.
“This is unless the NAPC is out to do some monkey business with the coco levy funds. We demand the abolition of this task force. If Rocamora still has some delicadeza left in him, he should quit from the coco levy task force. Small coconut farmers do not trust his commission and we cannot entrust the coco levy funds to him and his bogus anti-poverty program,” Marbella said.
Micro-finance schemes for the poor
Based on reports posted on the website of the NAPC, its agenda is to work on the Aquino government’s social reform and anti-poverty agenda “from the perspective of the basic sectors, whose needs and interests merit careful consideration.”
Rocamora has previously explained that NAPC’s thrust is toward localizing the government’s anti-poverty programs to the municipal level, which will require greater cooperation from local government units and the basic sectors. He highlighted the the role of the basic sectors in helping organize the beneficiaries of the government’s programs such the Pantawid Pamilya scheme and PhilHealth.
In 2010, the agency embarked on a micro-finance program. The NAPC’s Microfinance Unit aimed to develop the micro-finance industry to supposedly ensure that micro-finance services reach the poor.
Among the unit’s regular activities are: the Financial Literacy Program, which involves capacity-building of the poor to increase their knowledge of financial concepts. It also conducted micro-finance orientations, wherein micro-finance institutions offered their various products and services to different communities.
“This will help educate the public so affordable capital for setting up household-based income-generating projects can be made available,” the unit said.
The NAPC is also in charge of the People’s Development Trust Fund, which was established by RA 8425. The law provides for grants to supposedly strengthen and develop institutions that provide micro-finance and micro-enterprise services to the poor. The NAPC monitors the funds that so they can be used by LGUs and other organizations for: a) consultancy and training services to strengthen the financial management skills of beneficiaries; b) feasibility studies on livelihood and micro-enterprise projects; and c) information-dissemination on micro-finance technology and micro-enterprise development, among other priorities.
In the meantime, the NAPC also has a project called Technical Assistance for the Formulation of the Social Protection and Poverty Reduction Framework of the Aquino Administration. This is a project funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) that puts together a framework on poverty alleviation, including social protection, during Aquino’s term.
According to the NAPC, the framework is intended to guide national and local government poverty reduction actions, and to facilitate synergy with other anti-poverty initiatives that may be mounted by the donor community, the private sector and civil society. Begun in November 2010, the project set to concluded in June 2012.
For coco farmers only
Despite the NAPC’s declared mandate to come up with supposedly anti-poverty reduction programs, peasant groups are not convinced that the agency should be allowed to touch much less use a single centavo of the coco levy funds.
KMP’s Marbella reiterated the main points of the decision the Supreme Court issued last January 24. In it, the High Court said that the coco levy funds should be used “only and exclusively for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”
“The Aquino administration will be violating the law once it insists on using coconut farmers’ money for the counter-insurgency-oriented CCT program. The SC’s prohibition is very clear on this,” Marbella said.
Both KMP and Koprahan 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 that seeks the “Constitution of the Funds into Coconut Farmers’ Fund for the Rehabilitation and Development of the Coconut Industry.”
The Anakpawis bill defined the “exclusivity of use of the coco levy funds” to ensure that it is used primarily to the best interests of small coconut farmers. The bill provides that the funds should be used for the farmers’ exclusive benefit and that it can be utilized and disbursed for the following purposes:
(a) to finance coconut industry development projects initiated by coconut farmers, their organizations or cooperatives;
(b) to finance loan and credit programs for coconut farmers for production;
(c) to fund industry research development programs;
(d) to fund the construction and development of post-harvest facilities;
(e) to finance the invention and innovation of machines and equipments necessary to increase coconut production and improve quality of coconut products;
(f) to finance livelihood programs that would give coconut farmers extra income aside from coconut production;
(g) to fund institution-building programs for coconut farmers; and
(h) to finance skills training for coconut farmers.