Farmers should have control and management over coco levy fund and assets

Coco farmers from Quezon, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, Samar, Leyte and Aklan led by the claimant’s group Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) picketed the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) office in Quezon City today to warn the agency to keep its hands off the coco levy fund.

“We tell the PCA, lay off the coco levy fund and assets. In the interest of social justice, let farmers enjoy the fruits of their more than 40-year fight to recover the levy,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas’ Antonio Flores who added that the creation of a genuine small coconut farmers fund and coco farmers’ council is necessary to realise the return of the coco levy to farmers.

PCA administrator Avelino Andal wants the PCA to have the sole administration of the multibillion-coco levy fund instead of allowing a trust fund committee or a farmers’ council administer the utilization of the fund. The agency also requested that at least P4-billion in interest be released and used for the rehabilitation of the coco industry.

“Allowing the PCA to solely manage the coco levy fund would be a grand betrayal of the coco farmers’ decades-long struggle to recover the fund and assets. PCA had been instrumental in the forced collection of the levy during Martial Law. In fact, the PCA deliberately allowed Marcos cronies to squander and plunder the fund exacted from coco farmers,” said CLAIM-Quezon Mar Silos. Quezon farmers were the largest contributors to the coco levy fund that was collected from 1973 to 1981.

“The control and management of the coco levy fund, as well as its utilization should be decided by farmers, the moral and rightful beneficiaries and owners of the coco levy fund and assets,” said CLAIM-Masbate coordinator Toto Ramos. “We cannot allow private fund managers, the PCA or any other agency to continue depriving farmers of their long-overdue claim over the coco levy,” Ramos said. Bicol is among the largest coconut producers in the country. 

Coco farmers under CLAIM are standing by their position for the release of the coco levy fund through cash and social benefits. “We have raised our 7-point proposal to President Duterte. We have raised our opposition to government efforts to privatize the coco levy fund and assets. The immediate issue now is the return of the coco levy fund to coco farmers,” said Silos. “Direktang pagbabalik ng pondo na mapapakinabangan ng mga magniniyog. Hindi kami incidental beneficiaries lamang. Kami ang kinolektahan ng coco levy kaya’t dapat maibalik ito sa amin,” the peasant leader said.

The fund now estimated at P74-billion does not include coco levy assets including CIIF-oil mills and investments in companies that benefited from the coco levy including the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

CLAIM will launch more actions in the coming weeks to demand the return of the coco levy fund to coconut farmers. ###