MANILA — The government is ready to hold a dialogue with coconut farmers who want the coco levy fund to be returned to them after several decades, a Palace official said on Tuesday.
“Ang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan at ‘yung makatwirang pananagot ng pamahalaan sa mga pondo ng bayan, katulad ng coconut levy, ang ating batayang prinsipyo diyan (the welfare of our people and the responsibilities of the government about public funds, like the coconut levy, are our basic principles),” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said during a press briefing.
It was reported that a group of coconut farmers from Davao is planning to go to Malacañang to ask the government to return the coco levy fund to them.
Coloma said the Palace acknowledges the farmers’ rights to air their grievances regarding the coco levy fund, so long as it is done in a peaceful manner.
“Handang makipag-usap ang mga kinauukulan mula sa pamahalaan upang unawain ang kanilang kahilingan at tumugon ito sa isang paraang tinutukoy ang kanilang mga concerns (Our authorities are ready to discuss [the coco levy fund issue] in order to understand their concerns and address these concerns appropriately),” he added.
The Palace official assured the coconut farmers that the government would act for the benefit of the entire coconut industry.
He said such agencies as the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Coconut Authority are the primary entities that address the needs of coconut farmers.
“Kaya’t makakaasa ang ating mga magsasaka sa industriya ng niyugan na gagawin ng pamahalaan ang nararapat (Our coconut farmers can count on the government to do what is right),” Coloma noted.
“Maaari din silang lumahok sa konsultasyon kung ano ang pinakamainam na paraan na matutugunan ang kanilang mga development needs, dahil ang mga pondong ito ay nakalaan talaga para sa kanilang kapakinabangan (they can also join the consultation on the best way to address their development needs, because this [coco levy] fund is meant for their use).”
The coco levy fund scam was a controversy in the 1970s and 1980s, involving former President Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies, among them Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.
Marcos and his cronies allegedly conspired to tax coconut farmers, promising them development of the coconut industry and a share of the investments, but on the contrary used the accumulated money for their personal profit.
They purchased the United Coconut Planters Bank and a majority stake in San Miguel Corp. using the fund.
The coconut farmers have been fighting for justice for decades against the forced taxation, and a share of the Coco Levy Funds’ investments.
The coco levy fund is estimated to have ballooned anywhere in the range of P100 billion to P150 billion in assets.