Return coco levy fund to rightful claimants–in cash
Little has been said and written about the coco levy fund despite the fact that it came from an industry which is home to no-less-than three million coconut farmers, and whose products remain the country’s leading agriculture export.
For the uninitiated, the coco levy fund refers to taxes collected from coconut farmers during martial law. Estimates put the coco levy fund at P75 billion—a huge amount by any standard, especially when viewed against the plight of the millions of impoverished coconut farmers from whose toil it all originated.
In a Cabinet meeting held last June 15, President Duterte reportedly directed presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo “to look into the matter and make sure that the coconut levy fund is released to the farmers.” The directive was made in light of the Supreme Court ruling in Cocofed vs Republic which declares that the coco levy fund “is owned by the government and is to be used only for the benefit of the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”
As a campaign promise of the President, and given his populist bent, the coco levy fund would have already been given back to the three million coconut farmers, were it not for a TRO issued last Oct. 25 by the Supreme Court, which ironically enjoins government “from touching, releasing or disbursing the coco levy fund.”
Lately, the same coco levy fund drew attention because of the assurance of the new Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator, Avelino Andal, that “at least P75 billion in coconut levy fund that farmers want to be returned to them would be safe in the hands of the PCA” (“New PCA chief tells farmers P75B safe in his office,” Regions, 12/12/16). This, Andal said, despite being asked by Antonio Flores, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas secretary general, that Andal “keep his hands off the coconut levy fund”—and amid the move in the Senate to pass a bill that would place the fund under a
Coco Levy Trust Fund agency, separate from the PCA. The bill proposes “to use the interest that the fund would earn annually on programs for coconut farmers.” The new PCA chief, however, expressed opposition to the filing of the bill, stating “that he did not feel comfortable with it.”
Several suggestions have been raised on how to use the coco levy fund, all for the spending of the fund, with the end in view of alleviating the coconut farmers’ plight. But all inconveniently overlooked one basic fact: The coco levy fund came from part of the copra sales that the martial law regime exacted from coconut farmers.
That part of the coco levy fund or its entirety should be returned in cold cash to the coconut farmers. They need it more than they need the government programs for the industry. After all, it was taken from them at a time when dissent was considered a crime, and consultative processes of arriving at consensus were suspended.
In the hands of unscrupulous individuals or groups, the P75-billion coco levy fund could be shamelessly embezzled and dissipated in no time at all.
It doesn’t matter if, according to experts, only around P20,000 would actually go to each farmer, if shared equally. What is proper and owing is, the proceeds from the sweat of the farmers are given back to them or their dependents. Government should leave it to the farmers how they’re going to use or spend their hard-earned money. They deserve it after years of tending to their crop and tediously turning its fruit into copra. (I know from whereof I speak, because as a teen growing up in Capalayan, Surigao City, I helped my father manage our small farm lot.)
For once, let coconut farmers and their dependents enjoy what for so long has been denied them, and which rightly belongs to them. If it is not poignant justice, it is true justice at work.
JOSE P. CRISOLOGO, Lilo-an, Cebu