Danding shares too: Farmers want multi-billion peso coco fund returned

SAYING that the return of the more than P100-billion coconut levy fund is long overdue, militant farmers are demanding that the money be returned to them directly.

Their demand came after President-elect Rodrigo Duterte directed his legal team to begin moves for the release of the fund but some groups and solons are still debating whether to distribute the cash directly to coconut farmers or to put it in a trust fund that will be used in financing programs for the farmers.

Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that Duterte’s legal team should consider “direct cash distribution” to the farmers and use of the fund for genuine development of the coconut industry.

“The direct return of the multibillion-peso coconut levy fund to small coconut farmers is long overdue,” he said.

Flores also said the small farmers had prepared a proposal for the distribution of the funds.

The farmers’ groups also want the incoming Duterte administration to recover the shares representing 20 percent of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) held by businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.

“Cojuangco must also be held accountable for the plunder of the fund,” Flores said.

Cojuangco’s shares were part of the 47-percent SMC share block sequestered by the government after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

Arvin Borromeo, coordinator for Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (Claim)-Quezon movement, also said direct cash aid would be a just and legitimate solution to the small farmers’ poverty.

Borromeo said the cash aid proposal was not new, adding that it was first put forward by Sen. Joker Arroyo in April 2012.

Not practical

But Senator-elect Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said releasing the coco levy funds directly to the coconut farmers might not be the best thing to do, citing its legality and impact on addressing the plight of the farmers.

“There is a need to determine the mechanism to be put in place to release the coco levy fund to the real farmers as envisioned by the incoming administration,” Pangilinan said.

He said that many of the coconut farmers who actually contributed to the fund have already died and their heirs numerous, adding that coconut farmers population amounts to over three million nationwide.

This means that if the P72 billion in the national treasury would be distributed directly to 3 million coconut farmers, each farmer would get only around P20,000 which is not practical.

“This is about the same amount a copra farmer earns in one year and will clearly not go very far in addressing the plight of the impoverished farmer,” he said.

Pangilinan said he would refile a bill that would establish a perpetual trust fund for the P72 billion in the treasury, with the interest to be used in financing programs for the farmers.

He said the Supreme Court had ruled that the coco levy fund is a public fund, and should be used in accordance with the law and only for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry.

Not all want cash

A national farmers’ group, Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan (Katarungan) echoed Pangilinan’s proposal and opposed the return of the fund to coconut farmers in the form of cash as proposed by the KMP.

Danny Carranza, Katarungan secretary general, said the KMP proposal would be difficult to implement.

“How would the government distinguish the recipients? Most of the coconut farmers who contributed to the fund are now dead. And most coconut farmers, particularly those in remote areas, are not organized,” Carranza said.

He urged President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to exert all efforts and to influence his allies in Congress to pass a law creating a Coconut Farmers Trust Fund. The interest from the fund would be used for the rehabilitation and development of the coconut industry.

Farmers’ fund

Aside from direct cash distribution, KMP proposed the establishment of a “Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund,” which will not be part of the general funds and will be used only for the benefit of coconut farmers.

Under the proposal, the entire coco levy fund and its assets, including but not limited to United Coconut Planters Bank and the coconut oil mills that were acquired using the fund, will be administered and used for the benefit of small farmers and of the coconut industry in support of national industrialization.(With reports from PDI)

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Sunday, 19 January 2020
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