Farmers fear another scam in Coco Levy Act implementation

Published June 2, 2021, 1:15 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Groups of coconut farmers fear another scam might happen in the process of the Philippine government’s implementation of the Coco Levy Act, the law that should pave the way for the release of the P100 billion worth of funds and assets collected through the infamous coco levy fund scam more than 40 years ago.

In a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, groups of farmers – including KILUS Magniniyog, Confederation of Coconut Famers’ Organizations of the Philippines (CONFED), Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP), and Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) – aired their concerns over the draft implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Coco Levy Act or Republic Act (RA) No. 11524, an Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund (CFITF).

(MB FILE, Keith Bacongco)

These groups claimed the Philippine government doesn’t want to give farmers enough say in the coco levy fund disbursement and in the disposal of coco levy assets.

“The coco levy fund came from a massive scam,” said Joey Faustino, leader of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement and KILUS Magniniyog. “We fear another mass swindling of coco levy fund is happening”. 

Right now, the Coco Levy Trust Fund Committee – composed of the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and Department of Justice (DOJ) – is now asking for public comments regarding the IRR of Sections 9 to 11 of RA 11524.

The deadline for submission of the comments is June 3, 2021, Thursday.

To recall, RA 11524 ordered the creation of a management committee tasked to set the investment priorities for the coconut industry with regards to the release and utilization of CFITF.

That management committee should be composed of authorized representatives from the DOF, DBM, and DOJ. The DOF is the manager of the Trust Fund.

In a statement, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) deplored the “undue haste” of issuance of the aforementioned draft IRR.

During the briefing, FFF Board Chairman Leonardo Montemayor said it is not yet clear how the consultation process will be done with regards to the draft IRR.

“We are still consolidating the comments of our members and the members of other farmers’ groups. Our comments will be reflective of the entire coconut industry sector. It is not all [coconut farmers] but 90 percent of the organized coconut farmers,” Montemayor said, adding that the semifinal draft of the comments will be finished by Wednesday.

“Our problem is it is not yet clear if there will be a virtual public hearing on the draft IRR because we were just asked to submit our comments,” he added.

One of the concerns of the coconut farmers regarding the draft IRR is the lack of information as to how the farmers will directly benefit from several coco levy assets such as Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) – Oil Mills Group and the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and if coconut farmers will actually have a say in the disposal of these assets.

Another provision they are questioning is in Section 3 of the draft IRR, which provides for the functions of the Trust Fund Management Committee, including the “evaluation of assets to determine portfolio size based on the PCGG [Presidential Commission on Good Government], COA [Commission on Audit] Audit Report, and/or third party appraisers”. 

Edgardo Amistad, former president of UCPB-CIIF Finance and Development Corp., said there is no need to spend money for a third party in the evaluation of coco levy assets.

He said that instead, the government should allow coconut farmers to be part of this process because they are the ones who know it better.  

Meanwhile, CONFED Executive Director Charlie Avila also questioned the recent decision of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to approve the acquisition of Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) of the majority of shares of stock in the UCPB.

He said the coconut farmers have already written again to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to prevent this from happening.  

“Please side clearly with the coconut farmers on this issue. BSP’s approval of this anti-farmer deal cannot proceed unless you say so,” Avila told Duterte in a letter.

Avila was referring to Monetary Board Resolution No. 618 dated 20 May 2021, which approved the request of LANDBANK and Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation (PDIC) for LANDBANK to acquire PDIC’s Special Preferred Shares (SPS) in the UCPB.

The SPS comes to a total 88.91 percent of the voting shares with a total par value of P12.0 billion.
To formally make this happen, the most important condition required by the BSP is “an Executive Order (EO)” to be issued by Duterte.

Avila reminded the President that the UCPB has its own Charter, own purpose, own funding origin, which is the coco levy fund, while LANDBANK has a different charter and funding origin, which is the government’s general funds.

 “You disallowed the proposed merger earlier on of LANDBANK and DBP [Development Bank of the Philippines] because they have different purposes and charters. You were right if you thought it had to be Congress, not the Executive, to make any amendments to those charters established by law,” Avila said.

“The UCPB is still as of now the only possible coconut farmers’ bank. It was meant to be that,” he added.
As for the CIIF Oil Mills Group, which is composed of different coconut oil milling companies, Faustino said it is not yet clear how the coconut farmers will benefit from the planned sale of this asset, which was established through the coco levy fund. 

“The trust fund committee owes it to us to make us understand and inform us how the coco levy fund and assets are being disposed and going to be disposed,” he further said.

“They always say farmers don’t know anything that’s why we were not a huge part of the decision making in the disbursement of the fund, but the truth is we know everything,” he added.

Regarding all of these issues, Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Eduardo Mora said justice is yet to be served when it comes to the coconut levy fund scam orchestrated by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies, but coconut farmers are still willing to fight to achieve it.