By Catherine S Valente/Manila Times
Coconut farmers may finally get what they have long been hankering for –the multi-billion coconut levy funds.
Incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol on Thursday said President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the release of the coco levy funds to farmers.
Pinol added that Duterte directed incoming presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo to “start efforts” to ensure the release of the funds once his administration takes over on June 30.
“The president made the directive after I requested him to make a policy statement on the coconut levy funds because I have been receiving a lot of questions on the issue,” he said.
Pinol added that Duterte told members of his Cabinet when they met Wednesday night that the coco levy was an “emotional issue” for farmers, including the president-elect’s late mother.
“I am directing (Panelo) to look into this matter and make sure that the coconut levy funds are released to the farmers,” the new Agriculture secretary quoted Duterte as saying.
“The country’s coconut farmers can now heave a sigh of relief,” Pinol said.
He, however, noted that the respective agencies tasked to handle the coco levy funds will have to study how the money will be distributed to farmers.
The coconut levy funds came from taxes collected from farmers during the Marcos administration supposedly to develop the coconut industry. The fund is estimated to have grown to P100 billion.
Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr used these funds, however, to buy the United Coconut Planters Bank and majority shares at San Miguel Corporation (SMC).
In December 2014, the Supreme Court ruled with finality that Cojuangco’s shares in SMC should be given to farmers.
Because of the decision, Cojuangco transmitted to the national treasury around P71 billion but the money was not given to farmers because no mechanism was drawn for its implementation.
Pinol said the incoming government also plans to embark on a massive coconut planting programme.
“During the report I made, I also informed President Duterte that I have talked to officials of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for a six-year coconut planting programme to cover 600,000 hectares,” he added in a post on his Facebook account.“I was assured by PCA officials that the agency and its stakeholders are capable of producing planting materials to cover the 600,000 hectares of new coconut areas in the country,” Pinol said.
He added that he drafted a project proposal for the massive coconut replanting dubbed Copra (Coconut Productivity and Rehabilitation Agenda).
“This massive replanting of coconut aims to regain the Philippines’ status as the No 1 coconut producer in the world,” Pinol said.
Farmers, according to him, will have access to coconut seedlings, fertilisers and irrigation equipment through a soft loan or plant-now, pay- later scheme.
This programme will be coupled with introduction of secondary crops like abaca, cacao, coffee and black pepper. “Thousands of jobs are projected to be generated by this programme which would result in greater economic activities in the countryside,” Pinol said.
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