By Angel De Mesa
QUEZON CITY – Bicol farmers padlocked the main gate of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) central office earlier today saying that the agency is being useless to the coconut farmers.
Bicol Coconut Planters Inc. (BCPAI) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bicol led the protest as part of the protest caravan to condemn the continued non-return and non-distribution of the P85-billion coco levy fund to millions of small coconut farmers and their heirs. The coco levy fund and assets could balloon to more than P100-billion to P150-billion.
“Small coconut farmers are not incidental beneficiaries of the coco levy fund. They must have control and jurisdiction over the fund that were paid for by our elders,” said Jonathan Moico of claimants’ organization Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM).
According to Moico, the government will fund businesses in coconut and other related industries that are dominated by hacienderos, traders, mill owners, compradors and foreign businesses instead of returning the coco levy fund to small coconut farmers.
“While the local coconut industry has so much potential for genuine rural industrialization and the development of rural economy, the Duterte government opted to use the multibillion coco levy fund and assets to perpetuate neoliberal economic policies. Privatization of the coco levy fund and assets will pave way for the plundering anew of the coco levy,” Moico said.
“The Duterte government has failed millions of coconut farmers. He reneged on his promise to return the coco levy fund. The coco levy bills approved by Congress are for the privatization of the coco levy fund through investments and hiring of economic managers to administer the fund – a repeat of what Marcos did when the coco levy fund was exacted from small coconut farmers during Martial Law,” said Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general.
House Bill 5745 that was recently approved by Congress allows the use of P20-billion from the coco levy fund to jumpstart the Coconut Industry Trust Fund. Under the measure, the government will have control over the coco levy fund through a Trust Fund Committee and an Ad-Hoc Committee for the implementation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.
The average age of coconut farmers in Bicol is 60 years old. BICPAI and KMB chair Norberto Autor, already senior, starting to lose hope on the return of coco levy fund.
“It’s been more than 40 years since the levy was collected and majority of the farmers who originally paid the levy during martial law are now old, sick and dying. Regime after regime, we have fought hard to for the return of the coco levy fund and yet the government and the oligarchs always manage to deprive us,” said Autor.
However, Autor said that they will still continue to fight on the return of the coco levy fund and for the farmers democratic wishes.
Bicol region is among the country’s largest coconut producing regions. Headed by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bicol, different peasant organizations in the region expressed their clamor through noise barrage and by stamping the gates of the PCA.
“Lot of farmers have already been dead waiting for the coco levy fund. Death is either due to oldness or due to bullets aimed to silence the farmers, but up until now coco levy is not yet distibuted nor returned,” said Emanuel Hubilla of claimants’ organization Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) Sorsogon.
In the province of Masabate, coconut farmers registered their issue on the operation of the Filminera mining company in their province that affects the livelihood of the locals especially on the agricultural and peasant sector.
According to Larry Dela Cruz of CLAIM Masbate, 8,000 hectares of Aroroy Masbate has been widely covered by the mining company and 250 hectares has already been used for its mining operations.
“We cannot plant nor fish along the area because of the destruction caused by mining. Filminera has also expanded their area to Uson, Mopo and Milagros. Because of that, more and more farmers has been affected,” he said.
Meanwhile, the province of Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Albay shared the same sentiments to the government and PCA for not giving attention and assistance to the coconut farmers in their respective provinces.
No to privatization of UCPB
Coconut farmers are warning the Duterte government not to touch the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), which was bought using the coco levy fund.
The UPCB is now up for privatization after the Supreme Court lifted its TRO on the Executive Orders issued by former president BS Aquino. The Department of Finance is set to resume UCPB’s recapitalization, privatization and sale. The total worth of the UCPB is pegged at P16-billion.
“To the government and businesses – we say hands off UCPB. The DoF, especially secretary Carlos Dominguez, has no right to dispose of the UCPB. The UCPB belongs to coconut farmers,” said Moico of CLAIM.
Aside from the UCPB, coconut farmers are also demanding the return of the San Miguel Corp. shares and assets that were purchased by Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr. using the coco levy fund. (BaretangBikolnon.com)