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Farmers pushing for more say in coco levy benefits distribution

COCONUT FARMERS need to play a bigger role in determining the distribution of benefits resulting from Republic Act No. 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, an agricultural organization said.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said in a statement that it proposed the creation of a farmers’ advisory council to advise the Trust Fund Management Committee at a virtual meeting with the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Under the law, the committee decides on the disposition of coconut levy-acquired assets and the subsequent strategy for investing the proceeds. Members of the committee are the Secretaries of Finance, Justice, and Budget and Management.

According to FFF Secretary Dioscoro A. Granada, some of the acquired companies include the United Coconut Planters Bank, the Coconut Industry Investment Fund-Oil Mills Group, the United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp., the UCPB General Insurance Co., and the United Coconut Chemicals Corp.

“Coconut farmers paid the coconut levies. They have the moral and legal right to be consulted on the fate of these corporations and other assets that are supposed to benefit them directly,” Mr. Granada said in the statement.

Mr. Granada added that clarification is needed on who will approve the implementing rules and regulations governing the work of the Trust Fund Management Committee.

“Under the law, the President shall approve the coconut farmers and industry development plan to be prepared by the PCA, in consultation with coconut farmers’ organizations and other coconut industry stakeholders. Shouldn’t he also approve the implementing rules and regulations drafted by the Trust Fund Committee, which handles the assets privatization and funding for the road map,” Mr. Granada said.

The FFF urged Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar and PCA Administrator Benjamin R. Madrigal, Jr. to implement a provision under Republic Act No. 7607 or the Magna Carta of Small Farmers during the selection of the three farmer representatives in the PCA board.

The FFF said under the law, farmers who have been elected at the barangay, municipal, provincial, and regional levels, must elect from among themselves their national officials who will fill a seat in the boards of government agencies such as the PCA.

Signed on Feb. 26, the law puts coconut levy assets in a trust fund that aims to modernize the coconut industry under a development plan to be created by the PCA, and improve the lives of coconut farmers.

It authorizes the Bureau of the Treasury to transfer P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year, P10 billion in the second, P15 billion in the third, P15 billion in the fourth, and P25 billion in the fifth.

Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his associates imposed the coconut levy on farmers, promising to modernize the coconut industry using the proceeds as well as a share of the investment returns.

However, the money was diverted to purchase corporate assets like shares in the United Coconut Planters Bank and San Miguel Corp. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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