Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poor coconut farmers

THE recent ruling of the Supreme Court that the shares of Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) were actually owned by the government and should be used for the benefit of coconut farmers is a welcome news even as church people, especially pro-lifers, are still glued to their seats waiting in suspense the verdict of the Magistrates on the unconstitutionality or otherwise of the Reproductive Health Law.
            The value of the contested shares is still undisclosed, but a former UCPB director reportedly said that it is a “pittance” compared to the 27 percent of the shares of stock in San Miguel Corporation worth P70 billion which the High Court also determined to have been acquired with the coconut levy and, therefore, should be used for the benefit and development of the coconut industry.  The Secretary General of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Willy Marbella, commented that “the SC ruling did not only strengthen the small coconut farmers’ legitimate claim over the 72.2 percent shares in UCPB but reaffirmed the historical truth that President Aquino’s uncle plundered the coco levy funds.”
            The Coco Levy Fund may now be considered a scam which was committed from 1973 to 1982 by no less the then President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies, notably Mr. Cojuangco, and several others who conspired to unjustly tax poor coconut farmers, promising them the development of the coconut industry and a share of the investments.  But like all other scams in recent memory, what really happened was that the gargantuan fund was shamelessly funneled for personal profit particularly in the purchase of United Coconut Planters Bank and a majority stake in San Miguel Corporation.  As inside sources would have it, the Coco Levy Fund is now estimated to have ballooned in the range of P100 to P150 billion pesos in aggregate assets.
            The legal beginning of the levy could traced back to Republic Act 6260, the Coconut Investment Act of June 19, 1971.  The Act called for the creation of a Coconut Investment Fund and a Coconut Investment Company whose main objective, among others, was to fully tap the potential of the coconut planters in order to maximize their production and give them greater responsibility in directing and developing the coconut industry.  In June 30, 1973, Marcos established the Philippine Coconut Authority through P.D. 232  that mandated “to promote accelerated growth and development of the coconut and other palm oils industry so that the benefit of such growth shall accrue to the greater number, and to provide continued leadership and support in the integrated development of the industry.”  It was a stroke of brilliance; but it was a scheme of thievery, too, that sent poor farmers reeling in penury and catapulted wealthy industrialists to power—and the government broiled in a 40-year court battle.  Martial Law was bad enough with the concomitant human rights violations and massive plunder of the national coffers.  But fleecing the poor coconut farmers from their only livelihood for the aggrandizement of a few is equally worse.  

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