Last year as I recall, amidst a lot of drumbeating, Danding Cojuangco as chairman of San Miguel Corporation, handed over a check for P54 billion representing the purchase by the beer company of the shares of the coconut farmers invested with the conglomerate in the form of preferred shares. The check that was handed to officials of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) – the conduit of the farmers in this investment, dutifully accepted the amount which was immediately deposited with the National Treasury, since the Supreme Court ruled this to be government funds, albeit dedicated for the coconut industry.
That has been some time ago and the expectations of millions of coconut farmers was that this was payback time and that the government would immediately deploy the amount for the rehabilitation of an aging industry suffering from senile decay. With the catastrophic typhoon which hit Eastern Visayas and wiped out a huge supply center for coconuts amounting to not less than a fourth of coconut production in the country, farmer expectation for the early release of the levy funds was heightened. But alas and alack not a whimper was heard from officers accountable for the fund from the government.
This invited the speculation that this administration has ulterior motives in the disposition of the funds. The lame excuse on the part of the administration of the need for a roadmap prior to the release of the funds no longer holds since roadmaps after roadmaps have already been accomplished by both the private sector and public sector committees assigned to the task. We have personally seen these strategic plans, if we may call them as such, which seem doable. There has also been piles of bills in both houses of Congress that purports to set up implementing agencies for the disposition of the levies.
Again we ask – What is the administration waiting for? Unless these funds are quickly deployed this administration will have created a moral hazard as in the Malampaya funds. With elections in the horizon there are even those who speculate that these funds would be used to favor this administration in the electoral exercise. To kill the speculation we suggest that the government immediately get the NEDA or the Agriculture Department to program these funds posthaste.
To be sure, this humongous amount extracted out of the blood sweat and tears of the coconut farming community will be considered as the biggest hoax in the economic annals of this country. Designed in the early seventies as the redemption of the poverty stricken sector of agriculture it promised the moon to the coconut farmers – a coconut bank to address their production and consumption needs, processing plants to create additional incomes and employment, nurseries and research facilities etc., etc.
Today we know better. The Coco Levy funds instead of trickling down to the intended beneficiaries only trickled up to the fund handlers who continue to acquire and pile up asset after asset for a conglomerate built on coconut funds even as coconut farmers simply stare in awe and envy outside the kulambo.
The only thing we can say is that if the farmers are deprived of these funds, this injustice and inequity will cry out to high heavens for revenge and the history book will characterize this as the biggest scam and cruelest hoax ever in the history of this country.
The author served as Philippine Ambassador to Italy. He also chaired the Philippine Coconut Authority and served as Department of Agriculture undersecretary. He was also executive director of the Common Fund for Commodities, a United Nations-affiliated organization based in Amsterdam.