Farmers stage ‘koprahang bayan’ at Mendiola to reclaim coco levy funds

SMALL coconut farmers led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan) today brought with them more than 100 coconuts and other production tools like “tapasan, tigkalan, itak, sangkalan, and koprasan” and cooked copra at Mendiola Bridge to dramatize their plight and demand for the “immediate cash distribution of the P56.5 billion coco levy funds to small coconut farmers.”

“The multi-billion coco levy funds came from the tedious process of making copra, from the small coconut farmers’ sweat and blood,” said KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella adding “it was forcibly exacted from small coconut farmers during the martial law regime.”

Marbella added that “now, that the coco levy funds are at the hands of the Aquino government, our money is now very vulnerable to become a seed fund of senatorial bets and party-list groups allied with Malacanang.”

Last October 5, San Miguel Corporation “redeemed” the Series “1” Preferred Shares which represents the original 27 percent of the coco levy funds, now diluted to 24 percent, of SMC common shares ordered converted into preferred shares by the Supreme Court in 2009.

The order also stipulated that SMC will have the exclusive option to redeem and purchase on the third year (2012) the 27 percent comprising 753.85 million shares at a fixed price of P75 per share instead of at the prevailing market price.

The Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Funds headed by the National Anti-Poverty Commission is pushing for the P11.17 billion five-year “Poverty Reduction Roadmap of the Coconut Industry” that includes the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps)” and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), and so-called agro-enterprise development.

Last April, former Akbayan chief and NAPC secretary Joel Rocamora said the NAPC had drawn up a P10-billion, five-year “road map” to revitalize the coconut industry and that the first year of the program could be funded with loans. “The plan is to borrow off the coco levy,” Rocamora said.

“We will never allow Aquino and Rocamora to use our money for the scandalous 4P’s and the anti-peasant CARP itself,” Marbella said adding “small coconut farmers from Quezon and other coconut-producing regions are now intensifying the struggle to reclaim the coconut levy funds.”

“We are about to heighten our fight for the immediate cash distribution and reclaim the coco levy funds from the President and his coco levy fund mafia,” says Marbella, a coconut farmer from Bicol who still holds stock certificates of coco levy funded oil mills.

“The coconut levy fund was plundered by the Marcos-Cojuangco political and economic partnership during martial law. It belongs to small coconut farmers. Its recovery and return to genuine small coconut farmers is long overdue,” says Marbella.

The groups also called on the House of Representatives to immediately enact into law House Bill 3443 or the proposed Small Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Act filed by Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano to pave the way for the return of the coconut levy funds.

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