Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume III, Number 44 December 7 - 13, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Farmers’ Grandson Seeks Justice
Eder’s grandparents, whose livelihood was their family’s main source of
income, made several coco levy payments but got nothing for them. Now his
grandfather is dead and still he and his grandmother have yet to receive from
the coco levy. He seeks justice for coconut farmers like his grandparents.
Alexander Martin Remollino
Ederic Eder, 24, was a little boy, he would frequently play with some pieces of
paper kept by his grandparents in a chest. He would pretend the pieces of paper,
which he describes as having different colors, were money bills—these have
numbers on them anyway, and to his child’s mind, these numbers were their
on, he would grow up and learn that these were receipts of coco levy payments
made by his grandparents from the money they earned by making copra in a rural
village in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque province.
understands well the implications of the issues surrounding the coco levy funds.
Though he did not learn to make copra or even to climb coconut trees (for fear
of falling, he says), he used to help his grandparents out by peeling coconuts.
father passed away in his infancy. Mother was a full-time catechist who received
a small allowance, for her church activity. Their main source of income, then,
was his grandparents’ livelihood as coconut farmers.
coco levy is a tax exacted from coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982. It came in
there was the Coconut Investment Fund. It was established on June 13, 1971
through Republic Act 6260, which provided for the exaction of a Php0.55 tax for
every 100 kg. of copra. The coconut farmers were given receipts for payments
there was the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF). Presidential Decree
No. 276 provided for the exaction of a Php15 tax for each first sale of every
100 kilos of copra from Aug. 20, 1973. Eventually the tax increased to Php100
for every 100 kg.
were three major institutions which took care of the coco levy: the Philippine
Coconut Authority (PCA), the Philippine Coconut Planters Federation (Cocofed),
and the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB). These institutions were established
in 1975 through the money that coconut farmers invested in the CCSF, and were
directly administered by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, former defense
minister Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ma. Clara Lobregat.
the political support of then President Ferdinand Marcos, Cojuangco, Enrile, and
Lobregat and the three institutions were able to control the Philippine coconut
1983, Marcos issued a decree giving Cojuangco’s Unichem the sole right to
import petro-chemicals to be used with its products. The next year—by
Cojuangco’s own admission before the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court)—he
bought the majority shares of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) using coco levy
1986, in the wake of the People Power uprising that toppled the Marcos
dictatorship, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) issued a
sequestration order on Cojuangco’s SMC shares. The PCGG appointed its own
personnel to the SMC Board of Directors, replacing Cojuangco’s men.
1987, the government filed graft cases against the perpetrators of the coco levy
scam before the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court (SC).
1989, House Bill 25928 intending to declare the coco levy funds as public funds
was filed. Congress refused to go beyond the committee level on this measure.
same year, however, the SC ruled that: “The coco levy funds are clearly
affected with public interest.” Twelve years later, the SC would rule that the
coco levy funds are “prima facie public funds.”
was happy news for Ederic. “When I heard the 2001 ruling,” he says, “I
felt good about it. It was one of those now-rare instances that the government
actually acted in favor of the people.”
remembers writing on the coco levy, in an essay in 2001 for the e-zine Tinig.com
which he edits, thus: “For several years it was exacted from the scant
earnings of coconut farmers like my grandparents, but why is it that only a few
benefited from it—in Pacman fashion?”
days after the SC ruling, however, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would allow
Cojuangco to remain as SMC chair.
“civil-society” group People’s Consultative Assembly (PCA), one of the
groups that participated in the January 2001 People Power 2 uprising which
ousted the Estrada regime largely because of corruption, would shortly after
claim that President Macapagal-Arroyo, in September of that year, had secretly
met with Cojuangco to ask for a Php20-billion from the coco levy funds from
which the businessman had amassed some Php130 billion over the years—in
exchange for concessions to the businessman.
publicist Dante Ang admitted that there had been a meeting between Macapagal-Arroyo
and Cojuangco that September, but denied that there was talk of a Php20-billion
commission from the coco levy funds.
Macapagal-Arroyo administration would even allow the Malaysian company Kirin to
purchase some of Cojuangco’s SMC shares and vote with him—as a single bloc.
July this year, the Sandiganbayan ruled that Cojuangco’s SMC shares were
two months after, however, the same anti-graft court reversed its own decision
by declaring that the 1986 sequestration orders issued by the PCGG on
Cojuangco’s SMC shares were null and void for violating a technicality.
According to the court, the 1986 sequestration orders were signed by only one
PCGG commissioner, when in fact sequestration orders require the signatures of
the sequestration orders were issued, however, the law required only one
commissioner to sign them.
pattern of events seemed to confirm the PCA’s claims of collusion between
Macapagal-Arroyo and Cojuangco. Last month, the Ilaw at Buklod ng Manggagawa—the
union of workers in the San Miguel group of companies—said in a statement that
Macapagal-Arroyo, through her husband Mike Arroyo, had collected a P20-billion
commission from the coco levy funds.
statement was issued at the height of the NPC-led impeachment case against SC
Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., which was supported by some representatives
from Macapagal-Arroyo’s Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats. Davide was already
chief justice when the SC issued its December 2001 ruling on the coco levy
a sad indication of the current administration's failure to fulfill its promises
of good governance and new politics,” Ederic says of the issue regarding the
was one of the hundreds of thousands of young Filipinos who trooped to Edsa in
January 2001. On the last day of the People Power 2 uprising, he joined the
70,000-strong crowd that marched to Mendiola although he was starting to feel
the first signs of an illness. He would be hospitalized for days after the march
to Mendiola, but he never regretted joining People Power 2; in fact he was
genuinely hopeful that the ouster of Estrada would usher in an era of new
has recently declared that he would not run for president in 2004. He thus takes
back an earlier expression of intention to run for president.
Cojuangco manifested an intention to run for president, Ederic was enraged.
“It was like, somebody like him who is accused of duping small coco farmers
has no right to even think of running this country,” he says.
completed Journalism through a scholarship at the University of the Philippines
mother died in a sea tragedy shortly before he entered college: she was rushing
to Manila from Marinduque to attend to his application for the journalism
scholarship. His grandfather passed away shortly after.
grandmother is no longer able to make copra, and now hires someone else to work
on their small coconut farm.
Still he and his grandmother have yet to receive anything for the payments she and his grandfather made to the coco levy fund. Asked whether he wants to see Cojuangco in prison someday, he replies, “Sure. I want justice for the coconut workers like my grandparents.” Bulatlat.com