Small coconut farmers demand return of coco levy fund

7 February 2012

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Small coconut farmers affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) demanded that the coco levy fund be returned to them after reports came out in the media that the Aquino regime was already planning to spend it. Should the regime's plans push through, the coconut farmers will continue to be deprived of the right to claim their fund. KMP vice chair Willy Marbella decried that the fund would merely pass from one Cojuangco to another. Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, who currently controls assets bought with money from the fund is Aquino's uncle. The coco levy was a tax forcibly exacted during the Marcos dictatorship from all coconut farmers selling copra.

The small coconut farmers scored an initial victory when the Supreme Court issued a decision on January 24 declaring them as the legitimate owners of the 24% shares of stock of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) bought by Cojuangco using the fund. A few days after the decision, the Aquino administration announced plans to transfer the multimillion peso coco levy monies to a trust fund to be managed by an inter-agency team composed of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Finance (DoF), banks, farmers' groups and members thereof.

The peasants are opposed to this plan, saying that the government is merely out to use the fund for its own interests. The small coconut farmers declared that they would not entrust the fund to DA officials who were involved in the "fertilizer fund scandal" under the Arroyo regime. Neither would they entrust the fund to officials of the DoF and the banks because they are the same entities responsible for the National Food Authority's severe indebtedness. Most of all, they refuse to repose their trust in the so-called farmers' representatives who will form part of the inter-agency team since they will end up being pawns of the team.

The KMP demanded that the coco levy fund be immediately retrieved from SMC and returned to the small coconut farmers. In this regard, the KMP called for the immediate enactment of House Bill 3443 filed by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano which aims to put up the "Small Coconut Farmers' Trust Fund" using the coco levy monies.

The 24% bloc of SMC shares now worth more than P753 million is part of the 47% bloc of shares of the beer conglomerate sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1986. The shares were among the assets identified as having been illegally acquired by Cojuangco, Juan Ponce Enrile and Maria Clara Lobregat, then high-ranking officials of the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED) and known dummies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.