Mass registration of coconut farmers too complicated

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) already started the mass registration of coconut farmers to update the National Coconut Farmers Registry System (NCFRS), which, once completed, will serve as the government’s master list of beneficiaries for the P100-billion coco levy fund.  

Bantay Cocolevy, a newly formed national coconut farmers’ alliance, convened for the first time on Thursday and asked the government for a more inclusive and transparent mass registration of coconut farmers in NCFRS.

“The basis of the beneficiaries of the Coco Levy Fund is the farmers’ registry but how do you ensure that all the 3.5 million coconut farmers will be registered there in just a short period of time,” Jhun Pascua, president of Pambansang Katipunan ng Makabayang Magbubukid (PKMM) and a farmer-leader from Infanta, Quezon, said.

Jhun Pascua

During the virtual meeting, which was also attended by the media, other concerns about the NCFRS were also expressed by different farmers’ groups, including the slow pace of distribution of registry forms; forms being discriminatory to farmers who don't know how to read and write; forms being written in English instead of Tagalog or Filipino; and the increase in the requirements needed for farmers to prove they are qualified to be part of the registry.  

Republic Act No. (RA) 11524, also known as the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act or Coco Levy Act, was signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the last week of February and officially took effect this month.

Its passage will result in the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund, the tax collected from farmers during the Marcos Administration from 1971 to 1983.     

RA 11524 mandates the creation of a 50-year Coco Levy Trust Fund, as provided under a coconut industry development plan that is yet to be formulated PCA, an attached corporation under the Department of Agriculture (DA).

(MB FILE, Keith Bacongco)

Based on RA 11524, the laws’ beneficiaries are owners of a coconut farm that is not more than five hectares; leaseholders with no more than five hectares or tenants who till or supervise the cultivation of the coconut farm; and farm workers or laborers, whether seasonal or itinerant, engaged in the harvesting of the nuts and processing of copra as a major means of livelihood.

However, RA 11524 also requires these farmers to be part of a Coconut Farmers Registry, which the PCA should update and complete within 90 days from the effectivity of the law. 

Mylen Furtunado, secretary of Northern Quezon Coconut Farmers Association, said during the aforementioned meeting that the PCA has not yet come up with a clear set of guidelines on how the registration will happen and that a lot of farmers are still clueless about it.

“How are we going to finish this in 90 days?” Furtunado asked. “And why is the registration much harder now than the earlier process and why is the registration form in English?”

In Leyte, it was said that the PCA already distributed forms to one farmers’ group. However, only 50 forms were given while such a group has 2,500 members. 

In other areas like Eastern Samar, no forms have been distributed yet, according to Lita Bagunas, a farmer-leader there.

“We have not received any forms,” Bagunas said. “We already filled out our registry forms before but the problem is the government is asking for new registry forms, which we have not received yet”. 

Aside from the fact that farmers don’t know how to write and the forms being written in English, which some of them can’t understand, Ronaldo Daganosol, a farmer-leader, also pointed out the increase in the requirements needed for farmers to complete their NCFRS registration.

“Now, they are also asking the kind of other crops coconut farmers are planting and additional proof ownership,” Daganosol said.

“If you don’t own a land, additional proof is needed that you’re a tenant or worker at a coconut farm,” he added.

Jansept Geronimo from Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) said that some are required to get certification from barangay to prove that they are coconut farmers despite not having their own farms.

Barangays then require coconut farmers to get certification from the owners of the coconut farms they are attending to, which a lot of them are struggling to obtain because some big coconut plant owners are either abroad or living somewhere else or they just simply don’t want to. 

Business Bulletin already asked PCA for an update regarding the on-going farmers' registry, which started late last year, and how many registry forms have already been printed out and distributed so far, but none of these have been provided yet. 

Meanwhile, Timoteo Samson, president of Kasaganaan sa Niyugan ay Kaunlaran ng Bayan (KAANIB) and a farmer-leader in Lopez, Quezon, also asked if retired coconut farmers, who were actually victims of the coco levy fund scam, and their children can be part of NCFRS so that they will also benefit from the fund.

“There are coco levy fund victims who are no longer coconut farmers because they either stopped of old age or that they already sold their land, how about them?” said Felizardo Apilan, head of Municipal Agricultural and Fisheries Council (MAFC) in Lopez, Quezon.