Return coco levy funds to its rightful owners – Solon

JUSTICE will not be real and complete if the coco levy funds will not be returned to its rightful owners – thousands of coconut farmers and their families. The interest of coconut farmers as the rightful and legal owners of the coco levy funds must be upheld.”

“Small coconut farmers have suffered and waited for decades. Eduardo ‘Danding Cojuangco Jr. squandered the coco levy funds as if these were his own, and used the funds to acquire businesses, buy shares and expand the San Miguel Corporation (SMC), now a multi-billion, diversified conglomerate.”

This was the reaction of Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano as the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) returned P57.6 billion to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) as payment for the 700 million Series 1 preferred shares equivalent to a 24% stake in SMC, diluted from the original 27% shares.

Mariano also supported the demand of coconut farmers for an immediate cash distribution of the coco levy fund to original beneficiaries and their heirs. “Many small coconut farmers have died without even benefiting from the coco levy funds. It is high time that the government repay them back and give justice to their sufferings.”

The coco levy fund was collected by the Marcos administration from small coconut farmers through Presidential Decree 276 and Republic Act 6260 in 1971 to raise revenues for the development of the coconut industry.  Marcos cronies, including Danding, used the coco levy funds for their personal interests.

After Marcos’ downfall in 1986, the coco levy funds have been the subject of a rigorous legal tug-of-war between Marcos cronies led by Cojuangco and the government.

Last September 4, the Supreme Court has ruled with finality that a 24% bloc of SMC shares was bought using the coco levy funds and awarded it to the government on the condition that it should be used only for the benefit of coconut farmers and the industry.

Mariano warned against President Benigno Aquino III’s intervention on the administration of the coco levy funds. “Sa loob ng ilang dekada, ipinaglaban at pinaghirapan ng mga magsasaka na mabawi kay Danding Cojuangco Jr. ang pondo ng coco levy. Hindi naming hahayaan na pakialaman ito ng Pangulo para lang gamitin lang sa sarili nitong kapakinabangan gaya ng ginawa ng tiyuhin nitong si Danding,” the solon said.

Malacanang created the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Fund (PTFCL) which will determine how to utilize the coco levy funds.  The Task Force is composed of representatives from the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Presidential Management Staff, Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and the Philippine Coconut Authority.  “Coconut farmers are worried. The Task Force is under the President and its members are known Aquino allies.”

Mariano proposed House Bill 3443 or the Coconut Levy Funds Administration Management Act that will constitute the funds into a Coconut Farmers Fund for the Rehabilitation and Development of the Coconut Industry.

“As a way of protecting the interests of small coconut farmers and giving them social justice, control of the coco levy funds must be awarded to them through a mechanism that will protect and safeguard their rights to the funds, through representatives from their ranks and of their choice, and exercise their ownership rights over the funds and dispose these in line with the development of the coconut industry.”

Based on House Bill 3443, the main use of the coco levy funds will be for:

a. To finance coco industry development projects initiated by coconut farmers, their organizations and cooperatives
b. To finance loans 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 equipment necessary to increase coconut production and improve quality of coconut productsl
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.

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