Farmers lament slow rollout of programs from Coco Levy

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2023 10:59 AM

MANILA - More than 2 years have already passed since the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act was signed into law, but farmer Rene Cerilla said he has yet to feel the benefits of the programs from the coco levy fund.

“Mabagal po ‘yung implementasyon ng gobyerno. Kami po ay siyam na organisasyon, wala pa man lang kahit isa doon ang nakakuha ng benepisyo," Cerilla said.

Cerilla is the legal and policy advocacy officer of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka or PAKISAMA, an organization of farmers that has been fighting to secure rights to the coco levy fund. 

During the House hearing on the Coconut Farmer and Industry Development Plan (CFIDP) on Tuesday, it was revealed that only around 34 percent of the funds for its programs were utilized, according to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Among the programs that were not implemented in 2023 were college scholarships for children of coconut farmers, mechanized equipment and post-harvest shared facilities, infrastructure projects under the DPWH, and health and medical projects.

For Cerilla, a major hurdle for many coconut farmers is the requirement to be part of a cooperative. 

“Ang makikinabang na tuwirang kaagad agad ay yung mga organisadong magsasaka. Taliwas ‘yun dun sa pinanggalingan ng pondo. Dahil noong kolektahin naman ‘yung pondo ng coconut levy, hindi sinabi na o, eto kokolektahin namin ito sa mga organisadong magsasaka,” Cerilla said.

(The ones who will benefit immediately are the organized farmers. This is contrary to the source of the funds because when the coco levy was collected, they did not collect it solely from organized farmers.)

Another issue is the verification of the list of beneficiaries.

Of the 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers targeted to benefit from the coco levy fund, the PCA said only 1.7 million or around half have been validated so far. 

“Ang nangyayari, hindi sila naaabot ng pamahalaan. Ang nangangasiwa nitong registry ay ang Philippine Coconut Authority at napaka limitado ng staff ng Philippine Coconut Authority para maabot lahat.” 

Coconut Industry Reform Movement Adviser Joey Faustino urged the PCA to work with coconut farmer organizations to speed up the process. 

“Makitrabaho sila sa mga organisasyon ng mga magniniyog para mas marami ang naaabot nila,” Faustino said.

The PCA has committed to completing the verified list of farmer beneficiaries not later than June.

Cerilla and Faustino also called on the government to allow coconut farmers to be represented in the Trust Fund Management Committee.

Under the law which created the CFIDP, the committee is composed of representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of Budget and Management, and the Department of Justice.

“Para kami nasasabi namin doon sa committee ano ang gusto ng magsasaka. Ngayon wala. Ni hindi nga namin alam kung magkano ang kwentada ng assets ng UCPB bago i-merge,” Cerilla said.

(This is so we can tell the committee what the farmers want. Right now there is no representative.)

Cerilla said farmers don’t even know how much the assets of the United Coconut Planters Bank were worth before it merged with the state-run Land Bank of the Philippines.

The two banks merged last year, with Land Bank being the sole surviving entity.

Cerilla said it was urgent to implement the programs for coconut farmers and that relevant agencies should have the capacity to implement them. 

“Mamatay na nga yung tatay ko na kinokolektahan. Baka dumating ang panahon na wala na rin kaming second liner ay hindi pa rin naipamahagi nang maayos.” 

(My father who paid the collections has already died. The time may come when even we second-liners are already gone but the benefits remain undistributed.) 

He said many farmers even have to rely on 4Ps--the social amelioration program for the poorest citizens.

According to the Department of Budget and Management, total fund releases for the 2022 implementation of the CFIDP amounted to P2.5 billion. However, only P678 million was utilized by the implementing agencies, the DBM said. 

This figure is lower than the total disbursements for 2022 reported by the PCA before a House panel on Tuesday, which were at P859.3 million, or around 34 percent of the released amount. The PCA attributed the utilization rate to the late release of the coco levy funds last year.

The DBM said that for 2023, out of the programmed amount of P5 billion, P3.8 billion have already been released as of April.


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