Palace inserts P120-b coco levy in ‘14 budget
Funds meant for 2016 pork barrel, angry farmers say
FARMERS on Sunday protested the inclusion of the P120-billion coconut levy fund in the national budget for 2014, and accused the Palace of planning to use the money as pork barrel for the 2016 presidential elections.
The farmers belonging to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin said the Palace will dangle the funds before the newly elected lawmakers.
“The multibillion coco levy funds will be [Budget Secretary Florencio] Abad’s and [President Benigno] Aquino’s welcome offering to the incoming members of Congress in the form of pork barrel for hard projects,” KMP deputy secretary general Wilfredo Marbella told the Manila Standard.
In a 13-page memorandum to government heads of agencies dated April 25, 2013, a copy of which was furnished the Manila Standard, Abad said the coco levy funds would be used to build farm-to-market roads in coconut-producing provinces to “maximize the impact of the SC ruling.”
But the farmers called those projects “farm-to-pocket roads.”
Abad said while there was a huge growth potential from the coconut industry with $935 million in annual export receipts, some 28 percent of coconut farmers still have no access to a national highway, 21 percent are five kilometers or more away from a national highway, and 13 percent are more than two kilometers from a national highway.
But the farmers said roads were not the answer to dire hunger and poverty.
“The dire poverty exists mainly due to high land rent, the imposition of resicada, low prices of copra and other semi-feudal forms of exploitation and not due to lack of access roads,” said Marbella.
The coconut farmers rejected the roads and demanded their money back in cash, so they could use them for social benefits such as medical and hospitalization benefits, maternity benefits and scholarships for their children.
The peasant groups also issued a statement after they said Abad indicated that the use of the coco levy funds starting in 2014 was one of the administration’s approaches to promote “inclusive growth.”
Abad’s memorandum said the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) approved an “obligation budget ceiling” of P2.268 billion for 2014 on Feb. 15, 2013.
The budget ceiling is up by P262.1 billion or 13.1 percent compared to the 2013 budget level of P2.006 trillion, Abad said.
Abad also said the proposed Integrated Coconut Industry and Poverty Reduction Roadmap is now with President Aquino for approval.
“This priority program (coconut roadmap) will also maximize the impact of the Supreme Court ruling on the public nature of the coconut levy funds in October 2012,” Abad said.
“Abad’s plan to use the coconut levy funds will surely face small coconut farmers’ resistance nationwide. This so-called roadmap is the very same anti-coconut farmer program prepared by Joel Rocamora and the National Anti-Poverty Commission,” Marbella said.
“This clearly demonstrates that the Aquino administration and his coco levy fund mafia are itching to use our money for graft-ridden programs like the controversial conditional cash transfer program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms,” Marbella said.
He said Aquino, Abad and Rocamora did not contribute even a single centavo to the coco levy funds.
“They do not have the right to use our money,” Marbella said.
“This indicates that the Aquino regime will again use our money for ‘farm-to-pocket’ roads despite the Supreme Court’s crystal clear ruling that the coco levy funds must be used only for the benefit of small coconut farmers,” Marbella said.
He said only corrupt local government officials would greatly benefit from the coco levy funds as they would be awarded with massive road infrastructure projects.
“We don’t want so-called road projects that only benefit corrupt local officials. We want our money back!” Marbella said.
The farmers groups have been pushing for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds “in the form of social benefits including but not limited to pension benefits, medical and hospitalization benefits, maternity benefits, and educational assistance.”
“Cash distribution will be in the form of social benefits. This is not a dole and a far cry from the graft-ridden CCT program included in the NAPC roadmap,” Marbella said.
Both groups were also supporting the enactment of a bill that seeks to establish a council composed of coconut farmers.
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