Poe, Escudero: Gov’t, not Danding, should settle coco levy issue

Camille Elemia

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Poe, Escudero: Gov’t, not Danding, should settle coco levy issue
The candidates say businessman Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco Jr, whose political party has endorsed them, already returned the coconut farmers' money to gov't

QUEZON, Philippines – Presidential bet Grace Poe on Wednesday, March 9, said that settling the coconut levy fund issue is no longer a responsibility of former ambassador and businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr, pointing out that the money is now with government.

Poe was responding to a local reporter’s question on her administration’s position on the issue, considering that Cojuangco heads the Nationalist People’s Coalition, which recently endorsed the tandem of Poe and Senator Francis Escudero.

Quezon province heavily relies on agriculture, specifically coconut farming, for livelihood. Coconut farmers are among the poorest workers in the Philippines.

“Pati ako inip na inip na. Bata pa lang ako naririnig ko na ‘yan. Kinamatayan na ng mga nagreklamo tungkol d’yan. Ang problema di naman kontrolado ng mga nabanggit mo, ng mga Cojuangco, ni Danding Cojuangco, ito sapagkat nasa gobyerno na ang shares na ‘yan sa coco levy,” Poe said.

(Even I can’t wait for it. I’ve been hearing about it since I was a kid. Many petitioners already died fighting for it. The problem is, those you mentioned, like Danding Cojuangco, do not control it because the shares are already with the government.)

Cojuango, uncle of President Benigno Aquino III, is among those who allegedly used farmers’ funds to buy businesses, such as the United Coconut Planers Bank and San Miguel Corporation, during the Marcos administration. (READ: The San Miguel-Coco Levy Saga)

The Supreme Court earlier ruled that the coco levy funds belonged to the public and that it should be used for programs to benefit Filipino farmers.

“In fact, ang Supreme Court may desisyon na dy’an kung paano dapat i-release na ‘yan. Kaso ‘yung gobyerno natin meron pang ideya kung paano gagamitin ‘yun imbis na diretso na lamang at malinaw sa coco farmers,” Poe said.

(In fact, the Supreme Court had a decision on the how to release the funds. But our government had its own idea on how to use it instead of giving it directly to coconut farmers.)

Escudero shared Poe’s views, saying Cojuangco already turned over nearly P80 billion to the government.

“Ang nasa likod ng coco levy – Lobregat, Cojuangco, Enrile. Ang naiwan na lang na p’wede mapakinabangan ay hawak ng Cojuangco na napunta sa San Miguel Corporation na tinurn over na sa gobyerno. P9.6 billion kinolekta, ngayon kulang kulang P80 billion kasama interes,” Escudero said. Na-turn over na sa pamahalaan [ang pera] at wala na sa kanya.

(Those behind the coco levy were Lobregat, Cojuangco, Enrile. The usable amount that was left was with Cojuangco, which went to San Miguel Corporation, and which was was turned over to the government. P9.6 billion was collected, but now it’s about almost P80 billion with interest. He has already turned over the funds to the government, it is no longer with him.)

Poe earlier revealed they are being lent or are borrowing private aircraft from San Miguel Corporation, where Cojuangco is the chairman.

The vice presidential bet maintained Cojuangco does not meddle with the affairs of NPC, even as he is the founding chairman.

Escudero, whose father was an agriculture minister of Marcos, said surveys should be done to determine legitimate beneficiaries.

Ang layunin at plano ay ito: kailangan maggawa ng survey kung sino-sino ang dapat makinabang bilang coconut farmers at workers dahil nagkawatawak-watak na ang organisasyon at asosasyon na ‘tinatag noon, para makita at malamam sino ba dapat magbenepisyo,” he said.

(Our goal and plan is this: we need to conduct a survey to know who should be the beneficiaries as coconut farmers and workers because the organizations and associations then already went their separate ways. We need this to see and know who should be the beneficiaries.)

Escudero said he wants the coco levy funds to be used solely for the coconut industry.

He proposed giving an initial 30% lump sum amount to revive the industry. The balance, he said, should serve as a “perpetual trust” fund for coconut farmers. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.