DESPITE the heavy rains, militant groups led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Tuesday trooped to President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s residence on Times Street in Quezon City to oppose the administration’s plan to use the P70 billion coco levy funds as part of the pork barrel system.
“We are raising the alarm because Aquino and his coco levy fund mafia are bent in using our money in the proposed 2014 budget,” Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general, said in a statement, referring to the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Funds composed of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
Marbella said Aquino’s refusal to junk the pork barrel system is a strong signal that the coco levy fund is in grave danger.
“He [Aquino] even placed our money in pork barrel scam notorious agencies like the DA and the DAR. Instead of abolishing it, Aquino is beefing up the pork barrel system with the coco levy funds,” he added.
The peasant leader also noted that, under the proposed P2.3 billion budget of the PCA for next year, P305 million were allocated for the establishment of “agro-industrial hubs.”
According to him, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala earlier said that “the main source of funding for this project will be the coco-levy fund.”
“These so-called agro-industrial hubs with a lump sum funding of P305 million from the coco levy fund is highly questionable. Why use coco farmers’ money for the benefit of big agribusinesses?” Marbella asked.
“Government infrastructure projects are being funded every year and, in fact, funding seems endless,” he said, citing the unfinished Balog-Balog Dam, Aquino’s pet irrigation project in Tarlac that already enjoyed a total of P2.18 billion from 2002-2013.
Marbella also questioned the special provision in the DAR’s 2014 budget stating that “in consideration with the findings of the NAPC that coconut farmers have the highest poverty incidence among the rural poor, the DAR shall prioritize the acquisition and distribution of unacquired and undistributed coconut lands.”
The peasant leader noted that during the budget deliberations of the DAR last August 8, secretary Virgilio delos Reyes himself admitted that the more than 287,000 hectares of coconut lands “will be acquired with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA),” a government-owned and controlled corporation funded by the coco levy funds.
“Using our money for the acquisition of coco lands and compensation for big landlords and at the same time collecting amortization from small coconut farmers is totally unacceptable,” Marbella said.
The KMP has been pushing for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds in the form of social benefits including but not limited to pension benefits, medical and hospitalization benefits, maternity benefits, and educational assistance including scholarships, among others. NEIL A. ALCOBER