coconut dis-ease, coco levy fund, and buko juice

14 April 2013

jarius bondoc’s column Authorities, please act on these readers’ woes includes a desperate plea from a coconut farmer.

From Mr. Bert Tomas of Tanauan, Batangas: “This is about the pestilence in my town, the rest of Batangas province, and parts of Laguna. Scale insects are infesting coconut trees, causing the leaves to turn brown and wilt. Eventually the pests attack the core of the trunk until the trees die.

“Planters have resorted to felling the trees for sale as coco-lumber, for some income before they become useless. I cannot imagine the economic hardships our planters would suffer when all their trees and earnings are gone. Millions of us depend on coconut for a living.

“Replanting coconut seedlings is useless. The insects attack young trees as well. If spared, the saplings will take five to ten years to fruit.

“Last Sept. I met with personnel from the Philippine Coconut Authority. They could do nothing as they lack funds and knowhow to combat the pestilence, they said. There are only nine of them servicing the whole Batangas.

“I personally have seen the same coconut infestation in Mt. Makiling, in adjacent Laguna province. I am hoping against hope it has not spread to the next province of Quezon.

“I have heard President Noynoy Aquino and Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala (who is from Quezon) talk about the bright prospects for coconut products domestically and abroad. I wonder if they, and our local officials, are aware of the problem. If they are doing something about it, we have not been informed. The country’s entire coconut industry could be wiped out.

“Please, help us send this message to the authorities, before it’s too late: save whatever is left of our coconuts.”

last year, in march, the philippine coconut authority (PCA) alloted 1.4M php to mitigate with extensive measures the scale insect infestation in affected areas in 41 barangays of seven municipalities in the province of Batangas.

june 30, the agency said only 6 percent of batangas’ total coconut area was affected by the deadly scale insects.

in october, a month after the PCA told  bert tomas that they could do nothing for lack of funds and knowhow, the department of agriculture (DA) issued a press release to the effect that the PCA was “anticipating a sigh of relief,” with coconut farmers attesting to the effectivity of the mitigating measures implemented to combat the coconut scale insect infestation, which infected nine municipalities in the province of Batangas.  obviously premature, the anticipation.

in fact the scale infestation has worsened.  check this out, from interaksyon, dated january 2013: VIDEO | After being milked dry of coco levy, Batangas farmers suffer blow from another ‘parasite.’

in february, the DA’s bureau of agricultural statistics posted this top item of the monthly regional agricultural situation report:

In Batangas, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) reported that 20 percent of the total area of coconut trees were greatly affected by scale insects. These were the municipalities of Sto. Tomas, Tanauan, Malvar, Mataas Na Kahoy, Talisay, Lipa City, Lemery, Calaca, Agoncillo, Laurel and Talisay. Continuous control measures like pruning, burning and spraying of crude oil and dish washing liquid were undertaken to eradicate the spread of the insects.

from 6 percent infestation in june 2012 to 20 percent in february 2013.

february 4, 2013 agham partylist rep. angelo palmones delivered a privilege speech in congress.  the scale infestation has spread to some parts of laguna and quezon, and combined efforts of government with the private sector, PPP daw, are proving woefully insufficient for lack of funds and manpower.

now we know that it’s not the usual seasonal infestation, now we know that it won’t go away without major intervention, why are not more drastic and effective measures being undertaken to combat the spread of the deadly scale infestation?  no money?  but there’s the coco levy fund.  who, what are we saving it for?  surely the ailing coconut industry deserves all-out government support.  surely this is an emergency operation that deserves funding from the billions of bucks that coconut farmers unwillingly paid for close to a decade back in the dark days of martial law; money that’s now sitting in san miguel stocks and bank deposits earning interest for who-knows-who.

considering that the prez has been promoting buko juice and waxing ecstatic about the planned $15-million dollar investment by U.S. companies, it is strange that he has not seen fit to assure us, and the foreign investors-to-come, that everything is being done, no expense being spared, to stop the infestation and rejuvenate the coco industry.

and then, again, who knows what government plans for the coco industry and the levy fund.  for all we know there is no great concern or grief for the dying trees because anyway they’re mostly old trees, past the prime of their fruiting life, time to replace them with high breeds that fruit more frequently and plentily.  hmm.  if they’re on that track, sana they’re prepared to use the levy fund to replace the lost trees, along with all the old trees that survive the scale infestation, just because coco farmers are in no position to shoulder the costs.  it’s payback time.  and sana they’re prepared to see the majority poor coco farmers through the 4 years or so until new trees start fruiting.

meanwhile, the media should be echoing the questions raised by the kapisanan ng magbubukid ng pilipinas (KMP) in 2011, posted in bulatlat.com.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) feared that the 3.3 million hectares of coconut lands would be controlled by US agro-corporations.

“We fear that Aquino’s pasalubong would replicate the experience of farmers in Mindanao where US-based agro-corporations like Del Monte and Dole now enjoy lifetime control over tens of thousands of hectares of lands,” Randall Echanis, KMP deputy secretary general, said, referring to the country’s 50-year leaseback agreement with the US corporations that is renewable for another 25 years.

Echanis called on Aquino “to divulge the terms” of the investments fearing that this could lead to “one-sided and onerous land lease deals” between the US and the Philippines.

“These land lease schemes have turned farmers into mere low wage-earning agricultural workers instead of being empowered owner-cultivators,” Echanis said adding that the schemes “undermined the rights of farmers over their lands.”

There are 3.4 million farmer-families dependent on the country’s 3.37 million hectares of land devoted to coconut or 26 percent of the country’s total agricultural lands. http://bulatlat.com/main/2011/09/29/farmers-fear-aquino-selling-out-to-foreign-firms/

… Echanis also said if the Aquino administration is really sincere in developing the coconut industry, it should “immediately return to small coconut farmers the more than P150 billion coconut levy funds trapped in his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation.”

“The $15 million investment from the US is no match to the P150 billion ($3.488 billion) coco levy funds and the billions of pesos of agricultural funds being plundered by corrupt officials. The immediate return of the coco levy funds to genuine small coconut farmers is still among the solutions for the development of the coconut industry and not through onerous and one-sided investments,” Echanis said.

hayy.  i have a sinking feeling that something’s going on, deals being made, behind the scenes that augurs well only for the usual suspects.  matuwid na daan?  more like madilim.

Posted in coco levy, disasters

2 Responses to coconut dis-ease, coco levy fund, and buko juice

  1. April 15, 2013 at 4:38 am
    GabbyD

    ““These land lease schemes have turned farmers into mere low wage-earning agricultural workers instead of being empowered owner-cultivators,” Echanis said adding that the schemes “undermined the rights of farmers over their lands.””

    so, are farmworkers in mindanao unhappy? those who work for dole?

  2. April 15, 2013 at 3:56 pm
    manuel buencamino

    “There are 3.4 million farmer-families dependent on the country’s 3.37 million hectares of land devoted to coconut or 26 percent of the country’s total agricultural lands.”

    That comes to about a hectare per family. Sapat ba ang isang hectarya para bumuhay sa isang pamilya? Just asking kasi if one hectare is not enough then how do coconut farmers get out of that dilemma of fixed coco land area and growing coco farmer population?

    “Echanis also said if the Aquino administration is really sincere in developing the coconut industry, it should “immediately return to small coconut farmers the more than P150 billion coconut levy funds trapped in his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation.”

    Kanino pumabor ang SC, sa mga biktima ng coco levy o kay Danding? Kung sa mga biktima pumabor ang SC at final na ang desisyon then dapat isauli na ng presidente ang pera sa mga biktima. Kung ang SC naman ay pumabor kay Danding at final na yun desisyon ano ang magagawa ng presidente? Kung walang magagawa ang presidente, meron naman bang magagawa ang Kongreso? Nagtatanong lang ako kasi biktima din ang magulang ko ng coco levy.

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