• Government urged to use Coco levy funds to help farmers affected by yolanda

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    DESCRIBING it as a ‘low-hanging fruit’ available for the government to pick, Senate president pro-tempore Ralph Recto, said that it is time to utilize the P77 billion coco levy fund to help thousands of coconut farmers whose livelihood were destroyed by super typhoon Yolanda last month.

    Recto said that for these farmers to survive they need all the help they can get and it is only proper for them to get the dividends of their contributions.

    Based  on the initial estimate of the government at least 34 million coconut trees covering an area of over 41,662 hectares in Regions 6, 7 and 8.

    “But we don’t need statistics to tell us the extent of the devastation. Pictures of leaf-less coconut trees standing like toothpicks have become the icon of Yolanda’s wrath,” Recto insisted.

    Republic Act 6260 the law that created the coco levy was imposed on copra sales purportedly to raise capital investment for the coconut industry.

    By 1986, the total amount collected from the various coconut levies from 1971 to 1982 amounted to P9.7 billion.

    The amount was sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) after the people Power which pave way to the long legal struggle for its ownership.

    The Sandiganbayan on May 7, 2004, issued a partial summary judgment declaring the fund as “owned by the Government in trust for all the coconut farmers.”

    The Supreme Court, upheld the anti-graft court’s decision on January 24, 2012.

    According to Recto the  total amount of Coco Levy Fund released for public dispensation by virtue of the Supreme Court Decision is about   P77 billion including interest

    Recto also suggested that any coco levy-financed project should cover “a buffet of activities” and not just coconut tree replanting noting that coconut trees needs at least seven years to mature.

    He said qualified farmer beneficiaries must be given the flexibility “to choose the replacement or transitory crop” of P15,000 per hectare from coconut alone.

    This approach is feasible in light of studies showing that from an annual income of P15,000 from a hectare of coconut, intercropping it with cacao can raise it to P97,000, and with cacao and bananas to P120,000.

    Before Yolanda struck, Recto said coconut farmers in the Visayas were already impoverished, with 9 in 10 living below the poverty line.

    Last year, they contributed 17 percent or 2.7 million metric tons of the 15.86 million MT in total national production.  Leyte and Samar accounted for 70 percent of total output in the Visayas. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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