Editorial

For coco farmers only

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After nearly three decades and five presidents, the promised assistance to millions of coconut farmers remains elusive. Many of those years were spent—some were actually wasted—on tedious court litigations against private persons who had benefited from the controversial coconut levy funds. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled with finality on yet another case involving the money collected from the farmers during the Marcos regime.

The high court ruled on Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s “commission” in the form of shares of stocks that he received after negotiating the acquisition by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) of First United Bank, the predecessor of United Coconut Planters Bank. The high court noted that Cojuangco, a known Marcos associate, had in effect received public assets then worth P10.88 million, given his admission that the PCA paid the entire acquisition price for the bank using levy funds. The high court also upheld the Sandiganbayan ruling on July 11, 2003, declaring the government the owner of 72.2 percent of UCBP, which the PCA bought using levy funds.

The amount involved in last week’s ruling may run into the millions of pesos but will definitely pale vis-à-vis the value of the sequestered shares of San Miguel Corp. that the Supreme Court ruled in January 2012 as belonging to the coconut farmers, for being acquired using coconut levy funds. The shares, equivalent to 24 percent of SMC, were valued at P84 billion back then.

On Oct. 5, 2012, a day after the high court ruled with finality that the shares belonged to the government on behalf of the coconut sector, SMC formally turned over P57.6 billion to the government-owned Coconut Industry Investment Fund, which is mandated to assist the more than three million coconut farmers nationwide, as payment for 700 million preferred shares redeemed in September. (The 24-percent stake in SMC that was the subject of the high court’s decision was converted into 700 million redeemable preferred shares.) No less than Cojuangco awarded the check to then CIIF president Jess Arranza.

Despite the string of legal victories for the coconut sector, the pressing issue is how best to use the money to immediately help the coconut farmers. At the turnover of the funds to the CIIF in October 2012, Arranza said the amount would help fund programs benefiting the coconut industry and its farmers, adding that part of it would go to research and development (R&D) as well as livelihood programs for the farmers.

Last January, the First Coconut Farmers and Industry Stakeholders’ Summit was held and industry groups expressed support for the government plan to create a trust fund to hold the coconut levy funds. Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala raised a salient point: the investment of the levy funds in safe instruments so that the interest could be used for projects with an “immediate impact” on the industry. Some groups have suggested that the fund be used for coconut planting and replanting, seed farm development, fertilization and pest control, provision of livelihood and credit for business capital, scholarships, R&D for technologies to benefit the industry, and provision of insurance and health coverage for farmers.

The question now is: What is keeping the government from initiating these activities? The Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Fund, which is to determine where the recovered coconut levy funds should go, has been in place since 2010. It is composed of representatives of the Presidential Management Staff, National Anti-Poverty Commission, Presidential Commission on Good Government, PCA, and the departments of agriculture, agrarian reform, finance, and budget and management.

There is not an iota of doubt that the money should be used to help only the coconut farmers. The Supreme Court has said so, and reiterated this fact in its order last week when it pointed out that the funds reconveyed to the government “shall be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.” The high court’s ruling on the 24-percent block of SMC shares was issued with the same caveat.

The Aquino administration must now make the right moves to benefit the coconut industry, in particular the small farmers who still account for a big portion of the rural poor. These farmers paid that levy. It’s time they benefited from it.

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  • http://www.yellowmythbusters.gov.ph/ Weder-Weder Lang

    Expecting PNoy to return the coco levy fund to the coconut farmers is like expecting a feudal landlord to give up his vast hacienda and free the peasant farmers. As PNoy and his family has shown us, they will never do it. Not unless an angry mob shows up at their door and violently hacks to death the landlord and his family, just like in the movies.

    Now that would be poetic justice

    • carlcid

      Just as the MILF got their windfall via their “peace agreement”. In this country, it seems that those who threaten violence are the ones rewarded.

      • j0sua3

        thats waht you called “armed diplomacy”. very effective. besides, Mindanao deserved more from the national govt anyway… if the MILF do it right, they’re better off than the rest of the country, but htats just very optimistic to say the least. i hope the MILF proves me wrong.

  • kayanatwo

    15jul2013

    nobody asked me, but….i could say “itaga mo sa bato”, there will be more lawsuits and counter lawsuits and endless court appeals in re to “coco levy” funds fiasco.

    it was all “figured in” in the planned scenarios.

    like the opening sentence on this editorial, “after nearly three decades (that means almost 30 yrs.) of court litigations, the coco levy funds now is settled and the coco farmers could see some rays of hope.

    but wait,,,, we are talking philippines’ styles of justice here. it would take another 2 generations of coco farmers if they would ever saw or receive a single peso from the “coco levy funds” court settlement. if there is any left at all from the funds.

    look or read on what arranza and alcala are up to. we are talking billions of pesos here, not a small change. it is not what is justice for sure. there are money for everybody to make here. to wit, many of the marcos’ clan properties acquired by means of looting our national treasury are still untouchable to any of our govt. officials’ reach. go figure????

    meanwhile, the high price lawyers and their law offices would eat up all the “funds” for all the services rendered and provided on behalf of coco farmers. we have seen this scenarios before,,,just like the marcos’ loots case. it’s all about money to be made.

    • Simon Ward

      I dunno … I’m optimistic on this one. It would certainly buck the trend, but I have this feeling the coconut farmers will actually see some benefit in the next, say, 3 or 4 years, which would be light speed compared with the standard. And yes, a few tens of millions of pesos might disappear along the way, but that would be par for the course.

      On second thoughts, it’s wrong to say I’m “optimistic”. I’m just not quite as pessimistic as usual!

      • kayanatwo

        15jul13

        i hope you have a “good eye” and pick on this one mate….why not, we can all wait for another 3 or 4 yrs.

        we all got nothing to lose, but to buy time…..

  • vir_a

    He should also be ordered to surrender all fruits and interests that accrued as a result and which he enjoyed and received, including salaries and perks as member of the board of corporations where this money or part of it was invested.

  • carlcid

    30 years after, most of the people who paid for the levy are already dead. The present crop of “coconut farmers” are a motley group coordinated by militant organizations. Some are not even peasants, but squatters from urban areas. The genuine coconut farmers are unable to organize themselves and silently toil along with their daily lives.

  • regd

    Coconut farmers or ordinary farmers make no difference, they all have been deprived and provided nothing but promises. These money, even with good governance, are nothing but pittance compared to the laborious task they performed to feed people like us. If we have to start re-building our society, it must start from the bottom and these are the kind of people that needs every conceivable help.

    I’m all for the government to improve the livelihood program of every farmer. And i also challenge people here if they are willing to go and spend a day or two, just go to the countryside and experience how these people live. I did and enjoy every moment of it. You’ll be surprise how generous poor farmers are despite their abject condition.

    If we want to serve, we have to serve from the bottom. After all, we all bleed red.

  • isidro c. valencia

    I pray this coming SONA, the President will announce his plans about this money.

    Let us revitalize the coconut industry or Coconut Renaissance.

    One idea I presented to the people of Department of Science and Technology is to fabricate a mini milling machine to be owned by coconut cooperatives, not the existing big ones.

    Let us consider making of coconut oil as “cottage industry.” Then, this will eliminate the manipulation of cooking oil prices in the market by the Chinese traders.

  • syano

    What craziness and stupidity are we peddling here? Trust fund? is it not the arrangement with UCPB as administrator of the trust under the law but has long been sidelined in favor of PCGG and the government in its administration? The question of the trust fund is no question at all. it is already there for all to see. what the fuss is all about is with respect to who will manage the funds and that is what the noise is all about because all those making noise want to have a say and a piece of the funds they want to administer. Nagustohan nila yung perks na natamasa ng dating mga taga PCGG kaya gusto nilang sumawsaw kahit labag sa batas.

  • disqusted0fu

    Well, the farmers may have to wait for another administration because the current administration is full of false promises. Besides, it may have something against farmers because they keep on pressing to distribute haceinda luisita

  • Kai Yoton

    PNoy will never follow what the SC has ordered—he’ll invent plenty of excuses or worse, keep quiet then blame someone (most probably his predecessor).

  • bravehostdickie

    40 yrs. in evading the so-called long arm of the law. I will not be surprised if the true beneficiaries will receive their due in another 10 long years. LOL. here in the phil. it really pays to be a crook by the billions. You can pay every bright lawyer/law firm to enjoy your loot just before you die. Danding is already a septuagenarian but what really mattered is at least he enjoyed his loot to the fullest for 40 long years, mission accomplished. Just as Marcos did, and his wife and siblings do ’til now. Thanks to our justice system. only the idiots and traitors would dismiss the question as to why there is grinding poverty, strife, rebellion, criminality among the poor, indifference among the middle class, and greed among the rich. But what can a president really do?

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