SONA’s deafening silence on coco levy loot atbp.

i was only half-listening to the prez until he started talking coconuts…aha, here we go, i thought, let’s hear your plans for the coco levy loot (160B and counting).  alas, nothing, as in zilch, as though it doesn’t exist.  nothing, too, about the problem of aged unproductive trees that we’re not allowed to cut down without first getting permits and paying fees.  worse, the president’s best answer to the low productivity of coconut lands is nothing new.  intercropping is an old idea.  we’ve tried it and it doesn’t work, unless of course yours is a large-scale operation with lots of capital.  to be sure, i emailed what the prez said to my coco farmer sibs based in tiaong and got this reply today:

The State of the Coconut
By Luis Umali Stuart

I listened to the SONA on the radio, and drew close when coconuts came up, since I still have a stand of them up the hill. From the ground here, my immediate thoughts:

Procy* is from these parts and when it comes to cocos he pretty much knows the score, it’s a job cut out for him.

1. The real problem is that world prices for copra have fallen drastically, largely on a challenge from palm oil. Two years ago we were netting up to P4.50 per nut on lean months, now it is down to P1.50 almost year-round. Even “buko” (murà here) down from P6 to P3.

2. The market for coconuts is now shifted to higher-technology, higher-value, processed coconut products – virgin coconut oil from the meat, activated charcoal from the shells, coirflex and planting media from the husks, coco sugar from the water, packaged buko juice. These are where the reported gains are coming from, but are really only viable largescale, and require considerable capitalization. Large landholdings are the early beneficiaries (Villa Escudero I underatand has a thriving VCO operation.)

3. To participate in the new industries, avail of financing and incentives, small coconut farmers must organize into cooperatives, always easier said than done. Coconut farmers are producers, they are not businessmen and cooperatives are serious business, there is enormous paperwork involved. In the end it is rural businessmen and do-gooders that set up these cooperatives, who naturally end up controlling the whole shebang, turning the producers into the same cut-rate suppliers that serve the copra industry.

(And let’s face it. Pinoys are not a cooperative bunch. We have been so well-divided-and-ruled for so long perhaps that we really only trust the very closest to us. Even our vaunted bayanihan spirit, at least hereabouts, is not instinctive, there is always a promise of food and drink and and cigarettes after, it’s a small party limited to short friendly chores requiring many people.)

4. To help the small scale coconut farmers (under five hectares?), Procy’s sell to the president is “intercropping.” Give them something else to earn from, forget the coconuts, he means, and he’s got all these other products lined up: kape, cacao, saging, chickens… to intercrop with the niyog. None of which is new. The Silang (Cavite) project in the 60s of the rural reconstruction movement (that bred Juan Flavier and Boy Morales) was a showcase of intercropping (coconuts with papayas cum pineapples). But it now seems to be the focus, radically giving up the coconut industry to the more poised financially for the new directions in the market. In this regard the old small farms have been quickly outflanked by new players opening new sites.

5. The message for the small coconut farmers, is to stop relying on the coconuts and get off your butts, start working the land around your old trees, and intercrop. What would be new is if it will turn out to be worth all the work this time. Will the market and right prices be there when the critical days of harvest come, or will it be quickly cartelized by deft middlemen as usual? Will there be post harvest support and dependable technology inputs for more efficient processing and storage?  Otherwise all this crop diversification business doesn’t work. I suggest to Procy, if he wants farmers to really intercrop, he should be fielding futures buyers everywhere now with ready checkbooks for these startup crops, and then everyone will get to work.

6. Material inputs for the intercopping seem to be in place as claimed. Last October (21012) this forwarded text from my sister Babes: “tita, eto po ung contact sa alaminos laguna PCA, incharge of coco seedlings distribution… namimigay po cla normally 100 seedlings per person.” Bobby de Guzman (Candelaria) got some of these free trees himself (in San Pablo) with start up free-range chickens for their farmland in Dolores. I have heard also of ECA giving away coffee and cacao seedlings. Obviously one has to run around for these freebies, but they are out there, if only for the fleet and able.

7. It would be great if government can bring these offerings around farmgate to farmgate. Farming is a hunkered down life, and true farmers venture little outside their cozy soil-based comfort zones. They aren’t ones to run around playing government’s games, they (I) must be reached out to. The government must “missionarize” the farms, or it can never hope to suck the farmers in.

8. But we know, new and greater efforts require new and greater funding, and I dream of crop futures and farmgate services for small farmers with the coconut levy fund in back of my mind, if it should ever get in the hands of honest people, i.e.

The fund is again unmentioned in the SONA, simply because there is not anything good or clear to report. I heard recently that the SC has finally (?) decided vs Danding and given it all (?) to the coco farmers. This is obviously good news, but Noynoy can claim no victory nor promise anything from it. Indeed, what legal tricks are still open to Danding’s formidable lawyers so well-paid from the looted funds? The best thing about it is that we know where this bulk of the fund is and how much it is now worth.

For us coconut folk from whom this fund was extorted in the 70s under duress of martial law, following its trail and the long story of machinations that have kept it in Danding’s hands all this time, we all yearn to put the perpetrators in their place and fully recover this wealth. Still and all, I have grave misgivings where these funds are headed.

From my vantage, the coconut levy fund was a scam from the get go. I don’t have the dates, but the levy was well in force and being collected when I started in Santol in ’77. It was amounting, I think, to 10c per kilo of shelled nut (at P1/kg it was a whopping 10%). The buyers would return with booklets of stubs for us to fill up, equivalent to our contributions, loads of them for they were in small denominations and we soon gave up trying to keep filling them up. Until a while later, news came of scholarships being handed out. I dug them up and filled up hundreds if not a thousand. Aling Nene rushed to sign them up. We were to get “certficates” of a sort in return. But very soon after, that cocofund office in town closed, and we never heard of scholarships again nor ever saw any of our certificates.

In all these years following the progress of the levy fund chase, I have not once seen or heard of a list of its so-called beneficiaries nor ever met anyone with any kind of certificate in hand. Nor have we ever received any communication from any source that would suggest that we are on anybody’s list as true contributors to the fund. My very strong suspicion is that there is no true list, and that whatever list of beneficiaries exists, or should suddenly surface, is spurious.

At least in these parts, many of the farmers and coconut lands that were squeezed to build the fund are long gone, to the great beyond or other parts, the trees the way of the powersaw in the spate of land coversions in the face of CARP. If by some magic, the coconut levy fund should actually metamorphose from its shady beginnings into some real support fund for coconut farmers, I would be very surprised and declare it a holy day for the overwhelming power of good intentions. (2013 Aug 01)

*proceso alcala, secretrary of agriculture