Small coconut farmers not keen on the proposed Coco Levy Act

It turns out that all the bills being pushed by lawmakers right now that will pave the way for the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund do not necessarily reflect how coconut farmers imagined the return of their money to be.

From allowing Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to handle the funds to using the money for the development of the coconut industry in general where wealthy coconut plant owners also stand to benefit, Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Ed Mora fears justice may no longer be served for the real victims of coco levy fund scam.  

The coco levy fund, which came from the taxes imposed on coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies, is now estimated to have grown to around more than P100 billion.

In a phone interview, Mora raised concerns over the plan of legislators to entrust the P100-billion coconut levy fund to PCA.

"Why do they want to give it to PCA? What we want is for the government to create a trust fund committee composed of many farmers. This fund should be under the OP and farmers should have direct access to it,” Mora told Business Bulletin.  

“PCA has a very poor track record in terms of supporting the farmers. I have nothing against PCA but it has been there for a long time and yet coconut farmers are still poor. Why are we trusting them with the implementation of the Coco Levy Act?” he added.

Based on the current legislative proposal, there are two pending bills that have to be passed first in both houses of congress before the release of the coco levy fund could happen.

These are the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act or the Coco Levy Act, which would create a P100-billion trust fund that would be handled by PCA, and a separate law that would reconstitute the governing board of the PCA, which should be composed of representatives from the government, industry, and farmers.

The proposed Coco Levy Act provides for the utilization of the fund for the development of shared facilities program; provision of scholarship program; empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives; and provision of health and medical assistance for farmers.

"Congress and senate want the fund to be used for the development of the entire coconut industry. Why? Only small coconut farmers should benefit from this because the money came from them. If we give this to the industry, there are a lot of coconut farmers who are billionaire coconut plant owners who will benefit from this. In fact, they will be the first ones to benefit from this because they are the owners of the large coconut plantations,” Mora said.

With regards to the reconstruction of PCA and the PCA Board, Mora said the existing proposals would not allow the coconut farmers to decide how to use the coco levy fund. 

"Based on the law they are proposing, we don't get to decide. We will just implement what they will ask us to do with our own money. With the proposed PCA board, we will only have three representatives – one each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – and if there's a need to vote, we can easily be outnumbered," he further said.

Earlier, PCA Administrator and ex-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. told Manila Bulletin that his agency is now doing everything it can on their part to come up with the needed “documents” that will convince the lawmakers to finally pass the proposed Coco Levy Act.

“We are targeting to finish these two documents in the next few months. If that will be approved within this year, the coco levy fund will follow,” he said.

When asked if the coco levy fund will be finally released this year, he only said “there are conditions we need to fulfill first”.

The documents are the Coconut Industry Roadmap and the intricate list of where PCA intends to allocate the coco levy fund. 

Mora fears that if the plan of the lawmakers pushes through, there might be duplication of programs in Coco Levy Act since PCA already has its own set of programs every year.  "Like for intercropping, they are saying portions of the coco levy fund will go there. Why? PCA already has a budget for that from its regular annual fund. The use of coco levy should be used in development programs for poor coconut communities. A lot of coconut farmers don't own their own land,” Mora said.  

"PCA should only be part of the implementation of the law, not the lead implementer. We want to partner with the government but they should teach us how. Why don’t they want to give us our money?” he added.