“All of the presidentiables appear resigned and convinced that Cojuangco really owns the 20 percent in SMC that was acquired using the coco levy funds. This is an insult and betrayal to millions of small coconut farmers.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farmers challenged presidential candidates to distribute the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers and recover the 20-percent shares of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. in San Miguel Corporation (SMC).
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the claimants movement Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) issued the statement following the statements of presidential aspirants Grace Poe and Rodrigo Duterte on the said issue.
Poe and her running mate, Senator Chiz Escudero, said they would use the coconut levy fund on the basis of a law and not an executive order (EO). Meanwhile, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano vowed to distribute the multibillion-peso coconut levy fund to farmers within a month should they be elected in the upcoming national elections.
Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, noted that “none of the candidates has clearly declared how to directly return the money to small coconut farmers.”
“What we want to hear is how small coconut farmers would directly benefit from the money trapped in Aquino’s hands,” Flores said, referring to the more than P70 billion recovered from SMC and remitted by the Presidential Commission on Good Government to the Bureau of Treasury in October 2012.
Flores asked presidential aspirants to see if the coco levy funds remain intact. “Baka ginagamit na ng LP ngayong eleksyon,” (The LP might be using it for the elections) Flores said, referring to the ruling Liberal Party.
The coco levy refers to taxes or exactions collected during the martial law years from coconut farmers, planters and millers. Danding” Cojuangco, uncle of President Aquino used the coco levy to purchase the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) six coconut oil mills, 14 holding companies, and SMC.
In 2014, the Supreme Court affirmed its 2012 and 2001 decisions declaring the multi-billion coco levy funds as public funds that should ultimately benefit the coconut farmers from whom the funds originally came.
In June 2015, the high court issued a temporary restraining order against the implementation of Aquino’s Executive Order Numbers 179 and 180 aiming to privatize coconut levy assets.
Flores also noted that “none of the presidentiables vowed to run after the still contested 20 percent coco levy fund shares controlled by Cojuangco in SMC and hold him accountable for the continuing plunder of the coco levy funds.”
“All of the presidentiables appear resigned and convinced that Cojuangco really owns the 20 percent in SMC that was acquired using the coco levy funds. This is an insult and betrayal to millions of small coconut farmers,” the peasant leader said.
Poe was quoted in a report as saying “that the problem is that Danding Cojuangco doesn’t control it anymore because all the shares (bought with the coco levy funds) are now with the government.”
The KMP and CLAIM are pushing for the creation of a “Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund that shall not be part of the general funds of the national government and shall be used exclusively for the benefit of genuine small coconut farmers.”
Under a Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund, the entire coco levy fund and assets, including but not limited to the United Coconut Planters Bank and coco levy fund-acquired coconut oil mills, will be administered, utilized and used for the benefit of small coconut farmers and the genuine development of the coconut industry in support of national industrialization
Under the farmers groups’ proposal “socio-economic projects initiated by small coconut farmers and their organizations and/or cooperatives financed by the Coconut Farmers’ Fund shall primarily focus on: livelihood programs and projects meant to provide additional incomes to small coconut farmers; small and medium-scale coconut enterprises, marketing and trading mechanisms, inventions and innovations of machineries and equipment for the development of high-quality coconut and improvement of local coconut production; and programs that would provide loan facilities for small coconut farmers.”