ILOILO City – Farmers from Panay assailed the latest move of the Congress in passing on third and final reading House Bill 5745 or the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund.
According to the farmers, it is an affront injustice to the coconut farmers and will once again deprived them of their rights to coco levy fund which was unjustly extracted from them during Marcos time.
In a statement, regional peasant alliance PAMANGGAS secretary general Cris Chavez claimed that the bill aimed at again privatizing the coco levy fund and would only defeat the long call of the farmers of directly returning it to them.
He added that this move of the Congress erased the historical truth of the origin of the coco levy fund and the plunder done against poor coconut farmers when Marcos and his cronies imposed taxes and levies on coconut products.
The House voted 216-7 in favor of HB 5745. Only the entire 7-member Makabayan bloc voted against the bill stating that the bill does not take into consideration the plight of coconut farmers.
The bill sought to utilize P20 billon from the P80 billon coco levy fund that will serve as “jumpstart fund” for programs, projects and activities under the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund.
“This bill is anti-coconut farmer. This will defeat the calls of the coconut farmers of directly returning the funds to them which was extracted from their blood and sweat during Marcos time,” added Chavez.
The coco levy fund is made up of taxes imposed on coconut farmers mandated by Presidential Decree 755 in 1975. The taxes were used by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. to buy large percentage of United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and shares of San Miguel Corporation.
In 2014, the Supreme Court has affirmed its 2012 decision to return the coco levy funds to the farmers.
Chavez added that the bill will expose the coco levy fund to abuses of the oligarchs.
“It will only benefit and further enriched the likes of Cojuangco and other big coconut planters and millers. As a proof, P74 billon of the coco levy fund comes from shares of San Miguel Corporation which was owned by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.”
In a separate statement, CLAIM (Coco Levy Ibalik sa Amin) – Aklan spokesperson Kim Sin Tugna said that the coco levy fund should directly be returned to the coconut farmers as this is what the small coconut farmers wanted.
“For decades, we have been long waiting for the benefit of the coco levy fund which was unjustly extracted from us. The only way for us to benefit from it is to give it directly to us. The Congress should recognize that we have been fighting for decades to have the coco levy funds given to us. By passing the bill, we feel we have been robbed again of our rights to the fund,” Tugna said.
“Duterte has made it clear that he wanted his allies and oligarchs to benefit from the coco levy fund by making his supermajority Congress as his ‘rubber stamp’ for approving the bill,” Tugna added.
President Duterte has made a promise and has even signed a manifesto to return the money to the farmers within the first 100 days of his office during his presidential campaign in 2016.
PAMANGGAS and CLAIM-Aklan are calling for cash distribution of the coco levy funds through social benefits including pension, education and scholarship, hospitalization and medical assistance, maternity benefits, socio-economic and livelihood programs for the genuine development of the coconut industry that will benefit small coconut farmers. (Salvert Magapa | panaytoday.net)