Coco levy funds being plundered anew

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Led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (KOPRAHAN), peasants launched protest actions last October to demand the return of the coco levy funds which were plundered by the Marcos-Cojuangco combine during martial law. The peasant protests were timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Presidential Decree 27, Marcos’ bogus land reform program under martial rule.

In a mass action held at Mendiola on October 21, the peasants demanded the immediate distribution of the P56.5-billion coco levy fund to small coconut farmers. To dramatize their just demand, they showed how difficult it was to make copra and described the poverty of small coconut farmers and copra makers.

History of the coco levy. The coco levy was a tax imposed on the sale of copra from 1973 to 1982 that was shouldered by the peasant masses. It was a scheme by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Marcos’ close crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. In exchange were promises to develop the coconut industry and income for the farmers from investments that would allegedly be pouring in.

The opposite happened. Cojuangco and his ilk used the accumulated funds to establish the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) headed by big landlords like Danding Cojuangco and Maria Clara Lobregat. Cojuangco also used the funds to buy the majority shares at San Miguel Corporation (SMC), create the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) and 14 holding companies and purchase six oil mills, among others. The CIIF was charged with managing the coco levy fund. Since then, the value of the properties bought with the coco levy monies has ballooned to an estimated P100-150 billion.

The coconut farmers have been fighting to gain possession of the coco levy funds for three decades. In April 2011, the Supreme Court declared Cojuangco as the legitimate owner of the controversial SMC shares. As a result, some 3,000 coconut farmers filed a counter-petition at the Supreme Court and demanded an investigation on this unjust decision. Last January, the Supreme Court ruled that the coco levy funds could only be used for the benefit of coconut farmers and for developing the entire coconut industry. Thus, it was but fitting for the farmers to control the disputed SMC shares since these were bought using funds owned by the peasants.

On October 5, the SMC paid the CIIF P56.5 billion to enable it to gain full control of 24% of the SMC shares. The amount has been deposited at the National Treasury.

Status of the fund. Aquino has formed the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Fund ostensibly to manage the fund. The task force’s lead agency is the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) through Joel Rocamora, former Akbayan president. According to the NAPC’s plans, the Aquino regime will be using P11.17 billion of the funds for government programs such as the DSWD’s “Programang Pantawid” and the Department of Agriculture’s “land tenure improvement” which already have allotments from the government’s general fund. The farmers fear that the fund will merely be used for the coming election campaign.

The peasants’ stand. The farmers are determined to regain the coco levy fund. They refuse to allow the continued plunder of the fund that should long have been returned to them. The deposit of the P56.5 billion fund in the Aquino government’s National Treasury is due to their sustained struggle. But this only forms part of the amount that they should regain and that should redound to the benefit of coconut farmers. The Aquino regime is sure to launch its own maneuvers to prevent the coconut farmers from gaining hold of the fund.

To recover the coco levy fund and other properties acquired using the fund, coconut farmers’ groups in various provinces plan to launch intensifying protest actions. They are demanding the immediate enactment of House Bill 3443, which was filed by Partidong Anakpawis and aims to use the coco levy fund as a Coco Farmer’s Fund to rehabilitate and develop the coconut industry.

While the protests are directed against Aquino and Cojuangco, they must be closely linked to the overall antifeudal struggle. Among the other issues that should be resisted are the exploitative resikada system and the monopoly of foreign capitalists over the market. The resikada system involves arbitrary reductions by merchants in the weight and corresponding value of copra being sold by coconut farmers due to the merchants’ fraudulent overestimations of the copra’s moisture content.