Coco fund claimants affirm calls for cash distribution, control over funds

SMALL coconut farmers and leaders today gathered in Pagbilao town in Quezon province affirming calls for the cash distribution and control over the controversial multi-billion coconut levy funds now in the hands of the Aquino government.

The gathering dubbed “Coco Levy Funds Claimants’ Summit” attended by farmers from Quezon and Aurora provinces, Bicol region, Eastern Visayas, Panay, and Mindanao signals the start of a nationwide campaign to reclaim the coco levy funds, the organizers said.

“This summit aims to deliver a strong message to President Aquino that we want our money back,” says Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas deputy secretary general Willy Marbella.

Marbella said the summit “will be followed by provincial, municipal, up to barrio-level assemblies that includes screening, verification, and enlistment of small coconut farmer-claimants.”

A manifesto of the newly-formed Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) sates “the coco levy funds was forcibly exacted and plundered from small coconut farmers by the Marcos dictatorship and should be returned to them. For more than four decades, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., President Aquino’s uncle, controlled and benefited from these funds.”

“We strongly call for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds. This legitimate and just demand addresses the worsening poverty and hunger suffered by small coconut farmers,” the CLAIM manifesto added.

The immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers was first floated by Senator Joker Arroyo last April.

“There is no pronouncement from the government that the farmers would be cash recipients of the court decision. They would be incidental beneficiaries when the coconut industry is revived,” Arroyo said. “The farmers parted with hard-earned cash, but they would not be given cash in return; they would be given benefits in kind, tools, seedlings, credit facilities, etc. The irony of it all is that the principal beneficiaries, the government and the industry, had not contributed to the coco levy fund.”

At the same time, the CLAIM called for the immediate enactment of House Bill 3443 or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration and Management Act of Anakpawis party-list “to ensure the control of small coconut farmers over the funds and not by corrupt bureaucrats of the Aquino government.”

“HB 3443 will guarantee that we will benefit from the funds through socio-economic projects for small coconut farmers’ organizations and cooperatives,” it said.

Marbella said “the question of control is very crucial especially that the money is now in the hands of the Aquino government. We don’t trust the Aquino government to exercise control on the coco levy funds. The government did not even contribute a single cent on the funds.”

The CLAIM “rejects the Malacanang-created Task Force Coco Levy Funds headed by the National Anti-Poverty Commission and condemns the so-called Poverty Reduction Roadmap of the Coconut Industry.”

“We will never allow Aquino and Rocamora to use our money for the scandalous conditional cash transfer (CCT) and the anti-peasant Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” Marbella said.

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