The Confederation of Coconut Farmers of the Philippines (Confed) has urged Malacanang to disclose where it put the P7.6 billion coco levy fund it had taken from the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and San Miguel Corporation.
Efren Villasenor, national chairman of Confed, the largest and broadest alliance of major coconut farmers’ organizations in the country, on Tuesday said they suspect that the Aquino administration is using the fund to ensure the victory of its candidates in the May 9 polls.
Confed has more than 3.2 million members.
Villasenor, in an interview, noted that Malacañang and the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) are yet to say where the P7.6 billion went after they withdrew the money from the UCPB and SMC last year.
“There have been several reports that P5.2 billion of the P7.6 billion have already been transferred from a special account of the Bureau of Treasury to the General Funds, which Malacanang can use for any purpose it desires including using it for the elections,” he said.
When the Supreme Court (SC) decided in favor of the coconut farmers in 2012, it ordered the PCGG to put the whole cash component (P5.2 billion worth of SMC shares and P1.4 billion deposited at the United Coconut Planters Bank for a total of P7.6 billion) in a special account at either the UCPB, the Development Bank of the Philippines or Land Bank of the Philippines.
Then-PCGG chairman and now Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, however, withdrew the money and gave it to the Bureau of Treasury (BTr).
“They illegally transferred the money in violation of the SC’s decision that it should stay in any of those three government banks. They initially put the money in a special account in the BTr but recently we have heard that they have withdrawn most of the money from the special account to the General Funds,” Villasenor said.
He chided Joey Faustino, executive director of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR), for insisting that Sen. Grace Poe and businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. are in an unholy alliance with respect to the coco levy fund.
Villasenor said Faustino is not a real coconut farmer and has never contributed a single centavo to the coco levy fund.
“We are deeply aghast by the way Mr. Joey Faustino is twisting the issue on the coconut levy fund. We are, however, not surprised by his pronouncements. Mr. Faustino is not a legitimate coconut farmer. He is likewise not a leader or member of a legitimate coconut farmer organization. He did not contribute even a single centavo to the coco levy fund,” he added.
According to Villasenor, the coconut levy fund is no longer with Cojuangco but with the government.
“Putting it in BTr and then to the General Funds, the government now is the absolute owner of the fund and they can use it for any purpose they want to the prejudice of the millions of farmers who had fought for decades to recover the money,” he noted.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd issued two Executive Orders (EO 179 EO and 180), which provided for privatization of the coco levy fund.
“We were not even consulted on the issuance of the two EOs. We were surprised because Malacañang wanted to dispose of the fund without even consulting us. It seems they have other purpose[s]for the fund, maybe for the elections, but it is not for the coconut farmers,” Villasenor said.
The group then sought a temporary restraining order from the SC to stop implementation of the twin EOs for being unconstitutional. Their petition was granted.
Before the SC could issue a TRO on the EOs, however, the P76 billion from the UCPB had already been taken out by Bautista.
“Our decision is not to lay our hands on the coco levy fund and would just use it for the implementation of programs for the benefit of the whole coconut industry,” Villasenor said.
“We want to regain our old stature of being the biggest coconut exporter in Asia and we can only do that if we provide all the support to our farmers especially teaching them new technologies on how to maximize the earning potential of the coconut from the husk to its shell down to its water and the meat,” he added
Valenzuela City (Matro Manila) Mayor Rex Gatchalian said if Poe wins, she will ensure that the funds will be used for and by the coconut industry.
“Under a Poe administration, the coconut industry will be given priority attention. Coco levy funds, or interest income from the trust fund, will be co-managed by the farmers themselves and augmented by regular appropriations,” said Gatchalian, also the spokesman for Poe.
Some 1,195 municipalities rely on coconut for their livelihood.
The coconut industry, however, contributes only 1.14 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Gatchalian criticized the Aquino administration for failing to address the needs of the coconut industry and slashing the budget of the Philippine Coconut Authority(PCA) from P4.1 billion last year to P1.27 billion this year.
He said Poe will increase the allocation for the PCA.
“We will also fund the establishment of processing centers that will add value to coconut products and by-products,” Gatchalian added.
In her first 100 days, Poe will order a massive replanting and inter-cropping program in coconut-producing provinces, he said.