Place coconut levy fund in perpetual trust – Alcala

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The Department of Agriculture (DA) is standing by its decision to use the coco levy money as a perpetual trust fund for the benefit of coconut farmers and the development of the industry.

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Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has slammed the proposal from several coconut farmers groups to start with the “direct cash distribution” of the shares of businessman Eduardo “Danding” Coangco in the United Coconut Planters Banks (UCPB).

“It should be a perpetual fund to be used for the benefit of the coconut farmers,” Alcala said in an interview.

The coco levy fund is composed of P56.54 billion held by the Bureau of Treasury and P14 billion, representing cash dividends on the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) block of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) shares, which are deposited in escrow with UCPB.

The Supreme Court declared that the government owns 24 percent or some 750 million of SMC’s preferred shares registered under the CIIF last January 24, 2012.

On Wednesday, the Court also voted, 14-0, ruling that the state owns the 72.2 percent shares being claimed by Cojuangco in UCPB.

Willy Marbella, Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (Claim) national coordinator and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) deputy secretary general, urged Cojuangco
to finally return to the national treasury his shares in UCPB following the favorable decision of the Supreme Court.

Marbella also called on the government to give back the recovered funds through their proposed direct cash distribution for social benefits—including pensions of the elderly, education scholarships, and hospitalization and medical insurance of coconut farmers and their families.

According to CLAIM, the number of coconut farmers in the Philippines was pegged at around 20 million, coming from 3.4 million families farming some 3.5 million hectares of coconut plantations.

CLAIM is an alliance of farmers’ organizations, federations, coconut planters associations and individual claimants and beneficiaries of coco levy funds.

Alcala, however, said that they are against the individual distribution of the coco levy fund, saying that the money would benefit more coconut farmers if used to rehabilitate and modernize the industry.

Alcala reiterated that the P70-billion fund will be invested in government securities and only its interest, an estimated P2.5 billion per year, will be used for programs targeted for the coconut industry.

He said they are still studying the proposals for the creation of a committee that will manage a trust fund, where the fund will be used as capital.

“We are now looking at the legal side of the proposal, because we want to be sure with utilization of the coco levy funds,” Alcala said.

In January, industry stakeholders passed a resolution calling for the urgent creation of a trust fund for the coconut farmers and the coconut industry, to be managed by a committee composed of representatives from the government, coconut farmers groups, industry and other stakeholders.

Meanwhile, Alcala said that they have already identified various programs, including the establishment of coconut-processing centers in major coconut producing areas to provide marginalized farmers higher value and better income from the commodity.

“What’s good about these programs is that we can already start the construction even without the coco levy fund. Once the money is released, then it will serve as additional funding for the expansion of the programs that we have identified,” Alcala said.

“Before, all the projects identified by the Philippine Coconut Authority were anchored on the release of the coco levy fund. But now, we will push through with the programs even if the coco levy funds have yet to be released,” he said.

He added that they would launch within the year various programs, including coconut planting and re-planting, seed farm development, fertilization and pest control, livelihood and enterprise development.

Alcala said they are also looking at the creation of a credit program to be used as working capital for business involving the production of copra and other bi-products and self-liquidating projects; educational scholarships for farmers kin; research and development; and insurance and health maintenance coverage.

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