‘Duterte betrayed us on coco levy promise,’ says farmers group

Camille Elemia
‘Duterte betrayed us on coco levy promise,’ says farmers group
'Pinagtaksilan kami ni Duterte... Taliwas ito sa kanyang pangakong panig siya sa aming mga naghihirap na maliliit na magniniyog,' says Kilus Magniniyog after the president threatened to veto coco levy bill

MANILA, Philippines – You betrayed us.

Farmers on Tuesday, October 9, slammed President Rodrigo Duterte for reneging on his promise to return the at least P75-billion coco levy funds to its rightful owners, the coconut farmers. (READ: Coco levy fund scam: Gold for the corrupt, crumbs for farmers)

“Pinagtaksilan kami ni Duterte sa kanyang pagtangkang i-veto ang panukalang batas na aming inihain sa Kongreso. Taliwas ito sa kanyang pangakong panig siya sa aming mga naghihirap na maliliit na magniniyog,” Kilus Magniniyog said in a statement. (Duterte betrayed us when he threatened to veto the bill we proposed in Congress. This is contrary to his promise that he is siding with us small and poor farmers.)

“Pinapaalala namin kay Duterte: galing sa dugo at pawis ng mga maliliit na magniniyog ang coco levy, hindi sa gobyerno,” the group said. (We are reminding Duterte: the coco levy came from the blood and sweat of small coconut farmers and not from the government.)

During the 2016 campaign, then Davao City Mayor Duterte vowed to return the funds to the farmers in his first 100 days in office but failed. The coco levy refers to the tax imposed on coconut farmers under the Marcos administration but which was used to buy and invest in businesses of the late dictator’s cronies. Farmers have been waiting for the passage of the measure for decades now.

Duterte also signed a manifesto in front of coconut farmers in Quezon, saying he would push for a law that will establish a trust fund for the management and utilization of the funds. Now the bill is far from what he promised and what is ideal for farmers. (READ: Part 2: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)

Why the veto plan? It was Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who announced the threat of a presidential veto of Senate Bill 1233 and House Bill 5745 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.

Zubiri and 7 other senators trooped to Malacañang on Monday, October 8, to meet with Duterte in an attempt to save the bill. Senators blamed the fiasco on the supposed incompetence of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) Secretary Adelino Sitoy.

After two years of congressional debates, Duterte wants to change two things at the last minute:

  1. Reduce farmers representation in the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority board, which would handle the coco levy funds. Duterte wants government representatives to be the majority in the board;
  2. Include a sunset provision for the P10 billion yearly appropriation to the PCA for the improvement of the coconut industry.

Farmers’ opposition: Farmers opposed these, citing the need for social justice. They reminded Duterte that the coco levy funds – which the Supreme Court ruled to belong to coconut farmers – exist because farmers were taxed and cheated by the Marcos administration. In short, since farmers own the money, they must have a bigger say in the management of funds. (READ: Coco levy fund: Duterte’s failed promise)

“Ito ay isang special fund… Ang tungkulin ng gobyerno ay tulungan kami, hindi absolutong kontrolin ang kabuuang pondo. Ang coco levy ay pera ng mga magniniyog na ipinagkatiwala sa gobyerno,” KM said. (This is a special fund… The government’s role is to help us, not to gain absolute control of the funds. The coco levy is the money of farmers which were entrusted to the government.)

“Lumalabas ngayon sa kanyang tangkang pag-veto na hindi naman pala siya interesado sa hustisya para sa magniniyog, kung hindi interesado lang siya sa absolutong kontrol sa pera ng coco levy… Samakatuwid, kontrol lamang sa pera ang gusto ni Duterte, hindi katarungan para sa maliliit na magniniyog,” they said.

(It now appears that he is really not interested in social justice for the farmers, only in gaining absolute control of the money. In short, he is only after the money, not justice.)

The Senate and House of Representatives adopted concurrent resolutions requesting the Office of the President to return the coco levy bill to Congress to accommodate Malacañang’s amendments. The bicameral conference committee was reconstituted on Tuesday to fix the issues. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com