Aquino no difference with Marcos on coco levy funds, says Joker

THE administration of President Benigno Aquino III and the dictatorship of Marcos during Martial Law are “birds of the same feather that flock together” when it comes to  betraying coconut farmers on multi-billion coconut levy funds, says Sen. Joker Arroyo.

“Will the coconut farmers be betrayed by the government today as they were betrayed by the martial law government when the coconut levy funds were imposed in 1973?,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo is reacting on the statement over the weekend made by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala that coconut farmers will not receive any single centavo from the coconut levy funds in consonance with the decision by the Supreme Court that those are government funds.

“The farmers were fooled once; they will not be fooled twice. They were suckers before, they are afraid they will be suckers now if the Alcala prescription is allowed,” Arroyo said.

In 1973, a martial law edict imposed a levy on the coconut produce of the farmers.  The levies helped the industry; coco mills were put up, a coconut bank was established; coco deposits were loaned to acquire the controlling stock of San Miguel.

“But that did not benefit the coco farmers.  After Edsa, the impoverished farmers complained and a 26-year court struggle ensued,” Arroyo explained.

Last month, the Supreme Court voting 11-0, declared that the SMCA assets in the name of 14 holding companies set up under the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) and the Oil Mills Group (OMG) were purchased using the coconut levy and are therefore “owned by the government to be used for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”

“The case has been decided.  The industry players are extremely happy, the farmers are disillusioned,” Arroyo said.

With this, Arroyo asked that “will the farmers get their monies back?”

“That is the pivotal question.  How much will go to the farmers and how much will go to the industry, the twin beneficiaries according to the Supreme Court,” Arroyo said.

He said that the government set up a presidential task force chaired by the head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Joel Rocamora, to prepare a road map for the utilization of the fund.

“The lopsided composition of the taskforce is very discouraging.  It is similar to the 1973 committee that gave birth to the coco levy fund – heavily tilted in favour of the industry and the underrepresentation of the farmers,” he averred.

But, Arroyo said, Secretary Alcala provided the answer for the government over the weekend.  “The coconut farmers, he proclaimed, should not expect cash.  The coco levy monies will be spent to rehabilitate the industry, such that the benefits would trickle down to the poorest farmers.”

“But that is exactly the same as what the martial law government promised the farmers when they collected the levies from them which in turn was used to buy the controlling interest in San Miguel.  The farmers did not benefit from that investment, directly or indirectly,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo said that the farmers for 26 years fought to recover these monies, but the post-EDSA administrations half-heartedly supported farmers and the industry did not.

“As to the farmers, what is important is the cash component that goes to them.  Will the farmers wait until the coco industry is rehabilitated and create employment for them?  That is the carrot that was waved to them in 1973,” he said.

He however said that the farmers are not entirely satisfied with the Supreme Court decision.   “But better a loaf than no bread at all.  The decision is clear and peremptory — “to be used 1) for the benefit of all coconut farmers and 2) for the development of the coconut industry.”

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