The tandem of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Saturday vowed to distribute the P80-billion coco levy funds to small coconut farmers in just one month after winning the May elections.
In his message during his meeting with farmers at the UPLB (University of the Philippines at Los Baños) campus, Duterte stressed that the coco levy fund should be given to coconut farmers, saying the disposition of the fund is long overdue.
“The Supreme Court has said that the money belongs to the people. Matagal na ‘yan. [It’s taken so long.] By this pronouncement, it should have been given to the rightful owners,” he said.
Duterte said the money, which was collected by way of levy from millions of farmers during the administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos, must be immediately distributed to coconut farmers and growers.
“All it takes is political will. The Supreme Court already decided to return the fund to the farmers. Thus, if elected, in just the first month of our term, Alan and I will immediately give the fund back to the coconut farmers. Failure to do so is tantamount to estafa,” he added.
“Alan and I will only protect the interest and welfare of the coconut farmers. If other candidates prefer to protect the big and powerful, we, on the other hand, will protect the small and the weak,” Duterte said.
Senator Grace Poe had earlier defended business tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. for the non-distribution of the coco levy funds.
Poe, who is running for president as an independent, was adopted by Cojuangco’s party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
Cayetano said Poe issued a statement on the coconut levy even if she knew little of the case.
He pointed out that a petition filed by the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation, which he claimed was a Cojuangco “dummy,” was the basis for the issuance of a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court against two executive orders on the funds’ distribution.
“Ang kailangan sa issue na ito ay matapang na solusyon at mabilis na aksyon. Hindi pupwede dito ang protektor ng mayayaman o liderato na pateka-teka, [This issue needs a bold and speedy solution, not a protector of the rich or an indecisive leadership,]” he said.
Cayetano said he and Duterte will also reverse the Aquino administration’s plans to privatize the fund.
He said they will convert the coco levy assets into a stakeholders-shareholders-state equity partnership to guarantee the farmers’ hold on the assets and create village level farm-based processing industries.
According to Duterte’s spokesman Peter Laviña, around 25 percent or three million hectares of the country’s 12-million hectare agriculture lands are planted to coconuts.
There are also around 3.5 million coconut farmers across the country—making up close to 10 percent of the total 40-million labor force.
The coconut industry is among the top five net foreign exchange earners, with an average of $760 million per year.
The Philippines contributes around 59 percent share in world coconut exports, Laviña said added.