What’s happening with the coco levy fund?
With P75 billion in cash and P50 billion in assets, the coco levy fund holds the promise of reversing the deplorable state of 2.5 million coconut farmers and their families. But without the proper structure and support, there is a great peril that these funds will be misused.
The original vision of helping the coconut industry was to have organizations support production (Philippine Coconut Authority), processing (CIIF–Oil Mills Group), and financing (United Coconut Planters Bank). Last Nov. 22, at the conference of the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries, coconut committee chair Charlie Avila spoke about the altered direction and actions that have made this vision unattainable.
To restore such, Avila highlighted the need for strong political will and decisive action.
Last Nov. 26, at the meeting of the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA), co-convenor Romeo Royandoyan decried the slow release and misuse of coco levy funds, both of which have been documented. While the law mandates that the funds be distributed to 12 government agencies, no organization is responsible for coordination and ensuring that these agencies follow the same goal and objectives. Each agency is now using the levy funds in the way it so wishes.
When a farmer leader told Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) officials that one specific agency was misusing the funds, he was told they could do nothing about this. They claimed that they did not have the authority to intervene in any agency’s fund releases.
A specific complaint about this agency was that it was spending money on projects that had unclear goals and harnessed the wrong people, clearly a waste of money.
It was suggested that an executive directive be issued identifying the PCA as the responsible institution to coordinate and guide the fund use of the 12 agencies.
The agencies were also asked not to add unnecessary regulations in the law.
Last Nov. 27, Zenaida Mansilohan, a farmer leader from Agusan del Sur, said several farmers could not avail of the funds because they did not meet an additional requirement of being a member of a cooperative. She recommended that there should be more flexibility, such as allowing coconut farmers officially recognized by PCA as a sufficient requirement for fund access.
Earlier this month, the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), also known as the National Rural Women Coalition with 426 member-organizations in 42 provinces, also recommended harnessing the municipal coconut councils. These councils will supplement head office initiatives in helping monitor and manage the funds, while also ensuring women empowerment at the grass roots level.
Following the same direction of more meaningful participation by coconut stakeholders, AA recommended that a farmer representative be present at all meetings of the Coconut Trust Fund Management Committee.
This committee has one member each from the departments of Finance, Budget and Management, and Justice. Its objective is to “provide efficient utilization of the trust fund.”
Since this fund is for the benefit of the coconut farmers, there should be at least one farmer representative in all the meetings to ensure that their viewpoint is considered.
Another point: the law states that only P10 billion of the available P75-billion coconut levy cash is to be used every year for the first three years of implementation. It has been argued that this is too small, given the urgent enormous need of coconut farmers. After contributing to the fund for more than four decades, they should receive a bigger amount to improve their lives.
Lastly, we must also give our full support to the PCA.
The perils of the coconut levy must be addressed. Significant and urgent recommendations should be immediately considered and decisive action must be taken. Only then will the promise of the coconut levy become reality.