Former Aggie Secretary Montemayor says better deal needed for coconut farmers
MANILA – Justice seems to be too elusive for small coconut farmers that most of them have remained among the poorest in the country.
In an interview over COFFEE CHAT Monday afternoon, former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor, Jr. said coconut farmers still receive meager assistance from the government despite the fact the country has benefitted from coconut oil which has been among the Philippines’ top agricultural exports for decades.
“The controversial coconut levy should provide some benefits for the farmers who have contributed to the funds amounting to billions of pesos. To date, the National Treasury has in their possession some P76 billion,” Atty. Montemayor said.
The coconut levy was imposed on coconut farmers who sold copra during the early years of the Martial Law regime of then strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos hoping to improve the coconut farmers’ lives.
Atty. Montemayor said the United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB), the Coconut Industry Investment Fund-Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG) and a majority stake at the highly profitable San Miguel Corporation were sourced from the coconut levy fund.
“If all were liquidated today, it would yield over P100 billion,” he said. He described the coconut levy saga as a “never-ending story” which took time for the courts to decide on its true ownership.
It will be recalled the Supreme Court in its decision almost ten years ago said the bulk of the Fund is owned by the government, “but held in trust for the exclusive benefit of small coconut farmers and the coconut industry.”
During the same interview, Secretary Montemayor said the body tasked to manage the funds are composed of economic managers without representatives from the coconut industry, say coconut farmers.
“What is sad is even Secretary William D. Dar is not part of the committee,” Secretary Montemayor added. He explained finance managers, including Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III will definitely have a different perspective in the manner of addressing the needs of millions of coconut farmers across the country.
He added it is logical that the Secretary of Agriculture to lead the committee because he oversees the coconut industry through the Philippine Coconut Authority. He also called for the hiring of financial experts, “who have the interests and welfare of coconut farmers uppermost in their minds.”
He said the original proposal was to form a Fund Management Committee, whose membership will include small coconut farmers and industry stakeholders but looking at the latest version, farmers have been excluded from the group.
Atty. Montemayor said there is merit in selling or liquidating existing coconut levy assets and corporations which do not serve coconut farmers and devoting the proceeds to programs in favor of impoverished coconut farmers. (Melo M. Acuña)
Screen grab from COFFEE CHAT with former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Q. Montemayor, Jr.