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Opposition bailiwicks out of coco funds

The opposition bailiwicks and the largest coconut-producing provinces, such as Quezon and Laguna, were left out of the P120-billion coconut levy funds that the Palace inserted as pork barrel or projects for its allies in preparation for the 2016 presidential polls, peasant groups charged Monday. “Malacañang’s exclusion of the two of the biggest coconut-producing provinces from the priority areas that would supposedly benefit from the coconut levy funds shows Malacanang’s sinister plan to use small coconut farmers’ money for political purposes,” said Willy Marbella, deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. “The Supreme Court ruling was clear: The coco levy funds must redound to the benefit of the small coconut farmers—not to the benefit of the administration’s presidential contender in 2016, not the government’s and definitely not the politicians’.” In a 13-page memorandum to agency heads, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad only listed 12 provinces from the Visayas and Mindanao and only two in Luzon that included Camarines Sur and Masbate. These provinces will be accorded priority in the Palace’s road map for farm-to-market roads. Abad claims that 28 percent of the coconut farmers do not have access to a national highway compounded by the high incidence of poverty in those areas. The farmers call them “farm-to-pocket” roads as these projects will be given to congressional and local officials as a welcome gesture upon the opening of Congress. They also say infrastructure projects such as roads are contrary to the Supreme Court’s mandate. The House will deliberate on the P2.268-trillion national budget shortly after the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address in July. Marbella said the exclusion of Quezon and Laguna meant that as early as April, when Abad issued the memorandum, the Aquino administration had already conceded that those two provinces were bailiwicks of the opposition. Quezon Gov. David Suarez and Laguna Gov. ER Ejercito defeated the candidates of the ruling Liberal Party in the recent midterm polls. Both ran and won a reelection. Suarez, the son of House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez, ran under the banner of Lakas-CMD. Ejercito, a nephew of former President Joseph Estrada, ran under the banner of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance. The priority provinces are among the recipients of the coco levy funds under the Integrated Coconut Industry and Poverty Reduction Road map that is now pending the approval of President Benigno Aquino III, Abad’s memorandum says. “In spite of the contribution to the coconut levy funds of thousands of small coconut farmers in Quezon and Laguna, they were arbitrarily excluded by the Aquino government from the priority provinces that will supposedly benefit from the coco levy funds,” said Marbella, also coordinator of the claimants’ movement Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin or CLAIM. Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK) spokesman Nestor Villanueva said that in the early years of the forced collection of the coco levy funds from small coconut farmers, some 481,750 hectares of land or 21 percent of the country’s total area devoted to coconut was in Southern Tagalog. “In Quezon province alone, 204,000 coconut farmer-families are dependent on 388,664 hectares of coco land,” Villanueva said. The 12 priority provinces listed in the memorandum signed by Abad, besides Camarines Sur and Masbate in Luzon, were Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Davao Oriental, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. Villanueva urged Suarez and Ejercito to support the small coconut farmers in opposing President Aquino’s coconut industry road map. “Aquino’s road map for the coconut industry is a recipe for plunder. We challenge Suarez and Ejercito to link arms with small coconut farmers in opposing the Aquino administration’s plan to plunder the coco levy funds,” Villanueva said. The KMP and CLAIM reiterated their demand for the immediate 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 including scholarships, among others.”
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