By Jefferson Antiporda | The Manila Times
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has assured coconut farmers of his support for their efforts to ensure that the P74.3-billion coco levy funds will be used for their benefit and the development of the country’s coconut industry.
Marcos last Saturday offered his help during a consultation with around 500 leaders of the coconut industry from the Southern Luzon provinces of Quezon, Laguna, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay Sorsogon, Masbate and Catanduanes, as well as from Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) at the Queen Margarette Hotel in Lucena City, Quezon.
Charles Avila, spokesman for the Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines (Confed), noted that coconut farmers have been pushing in vain for a bill that would ensure the coco levy funds are used solely for the benefit of the coconut farmers and to promote the coconut industry.
“If you would allow me, I volunteer to help you toward the realization of your vision to improve the coconut industry and to ensure the fund that grew through your hard work will not be misused,” Marcos said in a statement on Sunday.
If used properly and prudently, he added, the coco levy funds could help propel coconut as the country’s premiere product, which would benefit not only small farmers but the entire country as well.
In a decision on January 24, 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) declared that the 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.”
“The Philippines has the potential to be world’s number one when it comes to coconut products but we have not taken advantage of this potential,” Marcos said.
According to him, the coco levy funds should be used to make the Philippine coconut industry the best in the world so that the country can be “price giver”—dictating the price of the product in the international market—instead of being a mere “price taker.”
Confed chairman Efren Villasenor said his group is proposing, among others, to enact a law constituting the coconut levy funds and assets into a Coconut Industry Trust Fund (CITF) and providing an administrative structure to manage the trust funds and ensure that its use will benefit the coconut industry and the coconut farmers.
“I will await your proposals so we can jointly develop a bill that will truly address your concerns and aspirations,” Marcos told the coconut farmers.
He said he will also seek the help of the four other senators of the Nacionalista Party to help push the bill in the Senate.
The coconut farmers have also deplored attempts of the Aquino administration to control the use of coco levy funds, through Executive Orders (EOs) 179 and 180.
The SC, however, has issued a temporary restraining order against the two EOs last June 30.
EO 179 calls for inventory, privatization and reconveyance in favor of the government of all coconut levy assets, including the shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) Companies and CIIF Holding Companies, as well as the 5,500,000 San Miguel Corporation shares in the name of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).
On the other hand, EO 180 seeks immediate transfer and reconveyance of the coconut levy assets to the government and use them for the Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap and the Roadmap for Coco Levy.
“With such a huge fund, it is not surprising that some people would attempt to control it so it can be used for their own agenda. We must be vigilant to ensure such efforts would not succeed,” Marcos said.
He said the Confed leaders should be commended for their timely action before the SC that stopped the implementation of the twin executive orders.
After meeting with the coconut farmers, Marcos also took time for a brief meeting in Lucena with leaders of the Original Guardians Brotherhood Integrated Inc.-Quezon Chapter led by their national president Plaridel “Seahorse” Sigue Jr., chapter president Gerardo “Circuit” Gonzales and secretary Jonathan “Raptor” Laureano.
Among those present in the meeting were leaders of the brotherhood from the Quezon towns of Mulanay, Lucban, Mauban, Gumaca and Macalelon, as well as from Lucena City.