Coco farmers’ interest, yes; reimbursement, no
The clamor of militant groups for the “return” of the coco levy funds to the farmers is understandable, but it is also misguided. It is not the correct legal interpretation of the decision the Supreme Court issued last January. The Court did state explicitly that the 24 percent of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) shares that were bought with coco levy funds are “owned by the government to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”
However, it is also very clear in the decision that the coco levy funds are in the nature of taxes and cannot be transferred to private hands. In fact, that is the main reason why the Court declared illegal the purchase of SMC shares, using coco levy money: because Cocofed (the group of Lobregat, et al.) effected a transfer of the coco levy from public to private use.
Therefore, whether the “private individual” is Eduardo Cojuangco or a coconut farmer from Samar, a direct transfer of the coco levy is unauthorized by law. The funds should only be used for direct benefit, but there can be no transfer or reimbursement.
To push for direct transfer or reimbursement would be to implicitly support the position of those who have raped the levy through the years and render vulnerable all efforts to insulate the levy from private corporate claims.
—JAE DE LA CRUZ,
senior policy consultant,
National Anti-Poverty Commission,
2/F ATI Bldg., Elliptical Road, Quezon City
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