Farm­ers hail coco levy rul­ing but . . .

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - —STORY BY DELFIN T. MALLARI JR. AND VINCE F. NONATO

Co­conut farm­ers wel­come the Sandi­gan­bayan de­ci­sion to en­force the 2012 Supreme Court rul­ing that said P83 bil­lion worth of as­sets ac­quired us­ing the co­conut levy fund be­long to them. They fear their le­gal vic­tory will be un­der­mined by a bill es­tab­lish­ing a co­conut in­dus­try trust fund to be man­aged by a re­con­sti­tuted Philip­pine Co­conut Author­ity.

Co­conut farm­ers on Fri­day wel­comed the Sandi­gan­bayan de­ci­sion to en­force the 2012 Supreme Court rul­ing that said P83 bil­lion worth of as­sets ac­quired through the use of the co­conut levy fund be­longed to them.

“The Sandi­gan­bayan or­der is timely in the light of the con­tin­u­ous drop in the price of co­pra. What is im­por­tant is that the small co­conut farm­ers will fi­nally reap the ben­e­fits from the levy fund,” Ex­mar Ramos, leader of Kilu­sang Mag­bubukid ng Bon­doc Penin­sula, said in a state­ment.

Jansept Geron­imo, spokesper­son for Kilu­san Para sa Tu­nay na Re­por­mang Agraryo at Katarun­gang Pan­lipunan (Katarun­gan), said the farm­ers had long been wait­ing for the Sandi­gan­bayan de­ci­sion.

“The Sandi­gan­bayan should not reach any other de­ci­sion that is dif­fer­ent from the one that the [high court] had,” Geron­imo said.

In its 14-page res­o­lu­tion dated Aug. 7, which was­made pub­lic on Thurs­day, the Sandi­gan­bayan fi­nally or­dered the en­force­ment of the Supreme Court’s 2012 land­mark de­ci­sion declar­ing that P83 bil­lion in as­sets ac­quired through the Co­conut In­dus­try In­vest­ment Fund (CIIF) were owned by the gov­ern­ment for the ben­e­fit of co­conut farm­ers.

Mar­cos tax

The CIIF was the sur­plus of the taxes im­posed by the late dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos on co­conut farm­ers. In­stead of be­ing used to im­prove the plight of the poverty-stricken farm­ers, the funds were in­vested in­stead in var­i­ous cor­po­ra­tions.

The re­cov­ered levy fund is ex­pected to ben­e­fit more than 20 mil­lion co­conut farm­ers and their fam­i­lies from about 21,000 co­conut-pro­duc­ing vil­lages across the coun­try.

In ac­cor­dance with the Sandi­gan­bayan rul­ing, the fol­low­ing as­sets would be trans­ferred to the gov­ern­ment: six com­pa­nies known as the CIIF Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG), their 14 hold­ing com­pa­nies and the hold­ing com­pa­nies’ 753.85 mil­lion shares of stock worth P71.04 bil­lion in the con­glom­er­ate San Miguel Corp. (SMC).

All the in­come, in­ter­est and prof­its from the as­sets, as well as div­i­dends from the SMC shares af­ter Sept. 17, 2009 and pro­ceeds from the redemp­tion af­ter Oct. 5, 2012, also would be cov­ered by the Sandi­gan­bayan rul­ing.

The anti­graft court re­it­er­ated the Supreme Court’s or­der that the re­con­veyed as­sets “be used only for the ben­e­fit of all co­conut farm­ers and for the de­vel­op­ment of the co­conut in­dus­try.”

Ap­peals junked

The Sandi­gan­bayan’s de­ci­sion set aside ap­peals by the United Co­conut Planters Bank (UCPB) and the United Co­conut Planters Life As­sur­ance Corp. (Co­co­l­ife) for more hear­ings to as­sess the Supreme Court’s rul­ing’s ef­fect on their in­vest­ments in the CIIF com­pa­nies.

UCPB claimed its in­vest­ments in the CIIF-OMG and its as­sets would be prej­u­diced by the ex­e­cu­tion of the Supreme Court rul­ing, while Co­co­l­ife ar­gued that it would lose P7 bil­lion of its P9.076-bil­lion net worth and be forced to close. UCPB and Co­co­l­ife also claimed 11.03 per­cent and 11.01 per­cent of the SMCshares, re­spec­tively.

The anti­graft court ruled that the is­sue of own­er­ship had been “set­tled with fi­nal­ity.”

“The only thing left for de­ter­mi­na­tion of the court is the mat­ter of ex­e­cu­tion of judg­ment,” it said.

Mala­cañang on Thurs­day urged the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Sandi­gan­bayan’s rul­ing.

“There’s a writ of ex­e­cu­tion, it has to be en­forced,” said pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Harry Roque. “The Pres­i­dent is for the rule of law. If there’s a writ of ex­e­cu­tion, then en­force it.”

Who should man­age fund?

How­ever, some farm­ers feel that their le­gal vic­tory al­ready suf­fered a ma­jor set­back even be­fore it was an­nounced, cit­ing last week’s ap­proval by a con­gres­sional bi­cam­eral con­fer­ence com­mit­tee of the Senate ver­sion of a bill that would cre­ate the co­conut levy trust fund to be man­aged by the Philip­pine Co­conut Author­ity (PCA).

Un­der the bill, the PCA’s gov­ern­ing body would be re­con­sti­tuted with 11 mem­bers—four rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the gov­ern­ment, one from the in­dus­try and six co­conut farm­ers. They would man­age the trust fund that would come from the na­tional bud­get and the P105-bil­lion co­conut levy fund.

Rene Cer­illa, one of the con­venors of Kilus Magniniyog, lamented that it would be the PCA’s gov­ern­ing body that would uti­lize, man­age and ad­min­is­ter the fund in­stead of a Co­conut Trust Fund Com­mit­tee (CTFC), which co­conut farm­ers have long been push­ing for.

“This means our strug­gle might yet again be ex­tended be- fore poor and small co­conut farm­ers gain ben­e­fit from the coco levy,” Cer­illa said.

5-hectare limit

Danny Car­ranza, Katarun­gan sec­re­tary gen­eral, ex­pressed con­cern over the dele­tion of the “5-hectare limit” in the def­i­ni­tion of a co­conut farmer ben­e­fi­ciary in the ap­proved bill.

Car­ranza said the “same farm­ers” dur­ing the Mar­cos regime could res­ur­rect them­selves as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the small co­conut peas­ants in the PCA and re­gain con­trol of the co­conut levy fund.

“Hope it will not hap­pen again,” Car­ranza said.

Geron­imo ap­pealed to Pres­i­dent Duterte to ful­fill his elec­tion cam­paign prom­ise to re­turn the co­conut levy fund to the co­conut farm­ers.

“Most of them (are) now old, sick and dy­ing while wait­ing to ben­e­fit from the money which was forcibly col­lected from them dur­ing the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship,” Geron­imo said.

In a “pledge to the small co­conut farm­ers” he signed dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Mr. Duterte promised he would en­sure that co­conut farm­ers would ben­e­fit from the co­conut levy funds within the first 100 days of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

GIVE IT BACK Co­conut farm­ers from Davao rally out­side the Philip­pine Co­conut Author­ity of­fice in Que­zon City in Novem­ber 2014 de­mand­ing that P71 bil­lion col­lected from them over the past four decades be re­turned to poor farm­ers. They fear their le­gal vic­tory this week could be un­der­cut by a bill in Congress.

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