Peasant groups back probe of palm oil imports

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February 04 2013

“These oil mills were established using our money and are, therefore, owned by small coconut farmers.  The return of all coco levy funds and assets to its rightful owners is long overdue,” says Marbella adding, that the companies must be turned over to the coconut farmers themselves.

By ALEX D. LOPEZ
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines —  The militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (Claim), a movement of coconut farmers, backed the calls for Congress to probe the reported importation and selling of palm-based cooking oil by a sequestered oil mill.

This after  House Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said he “will call for an immediate stop” to what he described as “anomalous selling and importation” of palm by San Pablo Manufacturing Corp. (SPMC), one of the six oil mills in the country established through the coco levy funds.

KMP deputy secretary general and also national coordinator of Claim Willy Marbella said “the reported selling and importation of palm oil by SPMC is not only anomalous but downright treasonous.”  He added that coco levy funds and assets, like the United Coconut Planters Bank, “are continuously being mismanaged, in fact plundered, by corrupt bureaucrats and self-proclaimed representatives of small coconut farmers.”

On February 1, Representative Suarez said he would file a resolution to investigate the issue as it affects the lives of millions of coconut farmers in the country.  In a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Suarez was quoted as saying the importation of palm oil that competes with coconut-based coconut oil is unfair for the country’s coconut farmers who are now reeling with cheap prices of their produce. It also turned out that the importer of the palm oil is a company that is under the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

It can be recalled that SPMC is among the oil mills in the Philippines that was funded by the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF).

CIIF, on the other hand, is part of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF) that was popularly known as the coconut levy fund created by virtue of Presidential Decree 276 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos in 1973.

“These oil mills were established using our money and are, therefore, owned by small coconut farmers.  The return of all coco levy funds and assets to its rightful owners is long overdue,” says Marbella adding, that the companies must be turned over to the coconut farmers themselves.

“Angayan lang ibalik sa mga mag-uuma sa lubi ang tanang coco levy funds tungod kay sila ang tinuod nga nanag-iya niana (All the coco levy funds must be returned to the coconut farmers because they truly own those funds),” said Pedro Arnado, the chairperson of KMP in Southern Mindanao.

Claim has recently called for a proposal for the disposition of the coco levy funds aside from cash distribution through social benefits like pension, medical and educational assistance.

The group said that all coco levy funds acquired assets, investments, and corporation shall be turned over to the Small Coconut Farmers Council (SCFC).  The creation of SCFC aims to “directly manage and administer the recovered coco levy funds.”

“The SCFC shall directly manage the operations of the CIIF-Oil Mills Group, 14 Holding Companies, United Coconut Planters’ Bank, Cocolife, and other corporations acquired through the coco levy funds for the benefit of small coconut farmers,” the Claim proposal said.

“With the SCFC, small coconut farmers will have complete control over the coco levy funds and prevent the likes of National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Secretary Joel Rocamora who did not contribute even a single cent to the funds and has no right to meddle over our money,” Marbella said.

On January 31, about 100 coconut farmers stormed the NAPC office demanding for the immediate distribution of the coco levy funds to the small coconut farmers.

The protesting coconut farmers also highly criticized Rocamora who is pushing for the PHP 11.17 billion five-year “Poverty Reduction Roadmap of the Coconut Industry” that includes the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper).

The protesting coco farmers called the CCT a corruption-ridden program while the Carper a failure.

Marbella said they were informed that Rocamora is advancing PHP 1.6 Billion from the coco levy funds for his anti-peasant poverty reduction roadmap program for the coconut industry.

Marbella reiterated demands for the President to dismantle the “coco levy fund mafia” headed by Rocamora.

“While small coconut farmers suffer from the very low prices of copra and other unjust exactions by unscrupulous copra traders like the resicada, the Aquino government’s importation policy continues to wreak havoc to the lives of millions of small coconut farmers,” said Marbella adding, “(W)e hope that this probe will pave the way for the turn-over to small coconut farmers of these coco oil mills and all assets acquired through the coco levy funds.”  (Alex D. Lopez/davaotoday.com)

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