Returning Senator and former Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Chairman Kiko Pangilinan is optimistic after recent pronouncements by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte made through incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol that the administration will pursue the release of the coco levy fund.
“We are hopeful that justice for the exploitation and the deprivation suffered by our coconut farmers for over four decades will soon be rendered,” said Pangilinan who served as chairman of the Senate Committee of Agriculture and Food from 2010 to 2013 during his second term as Senator.
The coco levy fund started in 1973, where a levy of 55 centavo-per-100-kilogram was collected from each coconut farmer as means to “stabilize” market prices of coconut-based consumer goods like cooking oil. It was increased to P20 in 1974 to “finance” the development of a hybrid coconut tree, with the Philippine Coconut Authority acting as conduit and oversight. The coconut farmers protested that they did not benefit from the levy. However, protesting farmers were subjected to harassment, imprisonment, and even killed during Martial Law. Until 2012, the fund has been stuck in court disputes and now amounts to P72 billion.
Pangilinan, however, raised concerns about the reported plan to return the funds directly to the farmer contributors of the levies.
“There is a need to determine the mechanism to be put in place to release the coco levy fund to the real farmers as envisioned by the incoming administration. There are over 3 million coconut farmers nationwide. How will the fund be released? If it is an outright distribution of the cash now in the national treasury amounting to some P72 Billion, this will mean each farmer will get P20,000.00. This is about the same amount a copra farmer earns in one year and will clearly not go very far in addressing the plight of the impoverished farmer,” Pangilinan said.
The Supreme Court ruled the coco levy fund to be public fund and that it is to be used only for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry. As public funds, the utilization should be in pursuant to a law.
“We will refile a bill establishing the coco levy trust fund measure that will place the amount of P72B in a perpetual trust fund in which only the interest income will be used to support programs that will aggressively push for coco enterprise development for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the industry,” Pangilinan added.
As a complementary program, the PCA under Pangilinan’s leadership spearheaded the establishment of KAANIB Coconut Agro-Industrial Hubs in several parts of the country. It was conceptualized as a strategic partnership linking KAANIB micro and small enterprises, cooperatives, and organizations to Central Business Units serving as the secondary processor of coconut products into value-added products such as coco sugar. The business units also help integrate the products into the market and provide information and technology to coconut farmers.
Coco enterprise development projects have shown a marked increase in the incomes of coconut farmers. Farmers in the copra trade earn about P50.00 pesos a day while those farmers who have ventured into production of coco coir, coco water or coco sugar have seen incomes increase up to tenfold.
“If our coconut farmers remain poor, the injustice they suffered will remain unaddressed,” Pangilinan ended.