Aquino urged to disclose plans for coco-levy funds

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A former agriculture secretary asked President Benigno Aquino 3rd what he plans to do with the escrowed P73-billion Coconut Levy Fund.

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Leonardo Montemayor, currently vice president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and president of the Federation of Free Workers, said that ever since the Supreme Court (SC) ruled with finality that the coco-levy funds belong to the government, the Aquino administration has been silent on its plans for its use.

“What we want is a statement, a policy, or a very clear direction as to what the Aquino government is planning to do with the P73-billion fund,” Montemayor said.

Montemayor, agriculture secretary during the Estrada administration, lamented that four years following the cited SC ruling, there has yet to be a clear signal from President Aquino as to what to do with the fund.

He said there are around 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country while 25 percent of rural folk depend on copra earnings for their subsistence.

“We can use the fund for replanting coconut in all Typhoon Yolanda affected areas. Farmers can inter-crop,” Montemayor said in a forum in Manila.

He suggested that President Aquino could issue an executive order unlocking the money from escrow so it could alleviate the sorry condition of coconut farmers.

Montemayor added that there are valuable suggestions from several sectors on how to make use of the fund.

He said the utilization of the fund could be used to generate 3.5 million jobs in rural areas, among others.

Currently held in an escrow account, the said fund is earning around P2 billion in interest every year.

The coco-levy funds were culled from the sales of copra from 1973 to 1982 pursuant to a presidential decree of then president Ferdinand Marcos.

However, instead of being used for the benefit of coconut farmers as mandated by the decree, the funds were used to purchase United Coconut Planters Bank and San Miguel Corporation shares.

During the term of former president Corazon Aquino, alleged Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco returned from exile in Hawaii and claimed ownership over the coco-levy funds, which he used to buy San Miguel shares.

The government has since then been engaged in a legal tussle with Cojuangco over the said funds until the SC finally ruled that the funds belong to the government.

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