The conventional wisdom among the conspiracy theorists is that the coconut levy fund like the Malampaya fund has created a moral hazard under this administration which if left unchecked will cause the utter dissipation of a fund that was created by the blood, sweat and tears of the coconut farmers at a time when the coconut industry is reeling from the destructive force of Yolanda which decimated the coconut industry in Eastern Visayas.
The conspiracy of silence among those accountable for the fund which was freed from litigation sometime ago through a ruling of the highest court confirming the public nature of the same is deafening. No less than the mastermind of the levy – Danding Cojuangco was gloating not so long ago that he had bequeathed the bounty to the coconut farmers for their upliftment when he turned over the 27% worth of San Miguel shares to the government not so long ago.
So where is the fund? In whose pocket is it now?
Lest we forget, the levy was collected allegedly to promote the vertical integration of the industry—the processing of copra into coconut oil and higher value products such as cooking oil, soap and cocochemicals among others—the rationale apparently for the forced purchase of oil mills from the private sector and foreign firms. It was also supposed to save the coconut farmer from the clutches of loan sharks through the purchase of a private bank—the First United Bank, which was owned by PNoy’s family and renamed the United Coconut Planters Bank after the family through cousin Danding was able to convince Marcos to deposit the proceeds of the government-owned levy, deposited with a government financial institution the NIDC, to the private bank above.
A seed nut plantation on Bugsuk Island, in Palawan was intended to provide farmers from all over the country with new coconut varieties while an insurance company set up to insure the coconut farmers was only able to insure a limited number of farmers belonging to the Cocofed for a measly P5, 000.
Unfortunately none of these projects costing billions really made a difference in the lives of the farmers who continue to wallow in poverty. The UCPB now a top commercial bank has only marginally and indirectly catered to the credit needs of coconut farmers who continue to be at the mercy of loan sharks and unscrupulous middlemen. The coconut oil mill has done absolutely nothing to provide more income to the farmer. Instead of removing the circuitous marketing channel that has reduced the poor farmer as the residual claimant of the value of its product, the CIIF oil mills actually created a monopoly/monopsony that pauperized the farmers further. Finally the Bugsuk experiment which produced the so-called “Mawa” variety was a dismal failure producing the wrong breed. It was as if the IRRI instead of increasing the productivity of rice farms lowered their yields.
Perhaps it was the utter failure of all these failed programs that the administrators of the fund ventured into investments with the purchase and control of San Miguel shares—an investment that by any stretch of the imagination could be claimed to be useful to the industry especially since only the interest of the same was plowed back to the industry.
With all that now under the bridge, thanks to the sense of justice of the highest court the funds have been returned to the government which never ceased to give up its fiduciary claim on the funds in trust for the coconut industry.
So the question is I repeat, where are the coco levy funds?
Justice demands that these be returned to the industry that contributed to it—an industry now facing extinction not only from Yolanda but because of overaged trees in farms that badly need replanting and rehabilitation.
My wild guess is that unless something is done to rehabilitate the coconut industry of Eastern Visayas which contributes no less than one-fourth of total coconut production in the country, this part of the country which was and still is a hotbed of dissidence, agrarian militancy will again erupt to the dislocation if this part of the country’s economy if not of the nation at large.
If the administration will continue to play ‘possum on the levy issue I hope that Congress whose constituents spread over some 68 provinces and numbering in the millions will look into this. If our reelectionists are wary about controlled votes like the Iglesia they should beware the backlash of an industry united by despair and discontent. It will only take one demagogue to exploit the issue for the benefit of the opposition.
In this connection I have a slogan for the industry—Coconut farmers unite, you have nothing to lose but your poverty, you have a new administration to win!