Press Release
December 16, 2013

Recto : P77-B coco levy is 'low-hanging fruit' that can help Yolanda victims

Government should treat the estimated P77 billion coco levy fund as "the low hanging fruit" that can be picked to help thousands of coconut farmers whose livelihood was "blown away by Yolanda," Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said today. Describing it as "frozen like a buko salad", Recto said it is time that the levy, which was raised though a tax on copra, be plowed back to the farmers who paid them from 1971 to 1982.

A preliminary government count placed the number of Yolanda-shredded coconut trees at 34 million, over an area of 41,662 hectares in Regions 6,7 and 8.

"But we don't need statistics to tell us the extent of the devastation. Pictures of leaf-less coconut trees standing like toothpicks have become the icon of Yolanda's wrath," Recto said.

"They also prove one point : With their trees dead, the source of income of tens of thousands of coconut farmers is gone too," Recto said.

For these farmers to survive, they must now be "paid the dividends of their contributions," Recto said.

Before Yolanda struck, Recto said coconut farmers in the Visayas were already impoverished, with 9 in 10 living below the poverty line.

Yet, the three Visayas regions Yolanda mowed down account for almost one-sixth of the country's production.

Last year, they contributed 17 percent or 2.7 million metric tons of the 15.86 million MT in total national production. Leyte and Samar accounted for 70 percent of total output in the Visayas.

Recto said any coco levy-financed project should cover "a buffet of activities" and not just coconut tree replanting. "It will take up to seven years for a tree to bear nut. Hindi naman pwedeng hindi sila kumain habang hindi pa namumunga ang kanilang itinanim." He said qualified beneficiaries must be given the flexibility "to choose the replacement or transitory crop" of P15,000 per hectare from coconut alone.

This approach is feasible in light of studies showing that from an annual income of P15,000 from a hectare of coconut, intercropping it with cacao can raise it to P97,000, and with cacao and bananas to P120,000. Birthed by Republic Act 6260, the coco levy was imposed on copra sales purportedly to raise capital investment for the coconut industry.

By 1986, the total amount collected from the various coconut levies from 1971 to 1982 amounted to P9.7 billion. In the aftermath of EDSA 1, the amount was sequestered by the PCGG, which also triggered a long legal struggle for its ownership.

On May 7, 2004, the Sandiganbayan rendered a partial summary judgment declaring that the six CIIF-OMG companies, their 14 holding firms, and the CIIF-OMG block of SMC shares as "owned by the Government in trust for all the coconut farmers."

The Supreme Court, in its decision dated 24 January 2012, upheld the Sandiganbayan.

On the same year, the SMC shares amounting to P57 Billion were paid for by the San Miguel Corporation and was remitted to the National Treasury.

The total amount of Coco Levy Fund released for public dispensation by virtue of the Supreme Court Decision is about P77 billion including interest.

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