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COA conducting special audit on coco levy funds

The Commission on Audit (COA) is conducting a special audit on the P75-billion coconut levy fund, which the Supreme Court declared should be used for the benefit of coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.

In his sponsorship of the P12.29 billion budget of the COA for 2020, Bulacan Representative Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado confirmed that state auditors have been looking into the coco levy funds.

"Meron tayong ongoing special audit tungkol sa coco levy fund," he said.

"Lahat ng issue na nireport tungkol sa katiwalian na maaaring mangyari na sa coco levy fund ay ini-imbestigahan ng COA at ito'y inaaral nang mabuti ng ating mga auditors," he added.

According to Sy-Alvarado, it was the first time that the COA conducted a special audit on the coco levy funds, and this is the reason why they could not give a timeline as to when the audit will be finished.

"Ginagawa ng komisyon ang pinakamabilis at pinakamagandang paraan upang maayos, mabilis at makatotohanang ma-audit yung coco levy fund na matagal nang hinihingi ng taumbayan," he added.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate welcomed the ongoing special audit, which he described as "unprecedented."

"This is a welcome development so that we can truly determine the real status of this multi-billion fund. The audit will also ensure the integrity and protection of the funds intended for genuine coconut farmers and for the improvement of their lives," he said.

"There are apprehensions that the fund may have already been squandered. Now, at least we will know how the different administrations used, if any, the funds and we will hold those responsible for anomalies accountable," he added.

According to Zarate, the coco levy fund includes cash amounting to P62.5 billion supposedly held in government special account and some P13 billion held in escrow account that supposedly earns interests.

"We also hope that with the COA audit, the House leadership will also push the fast tracking of House Bill 255 or the Genuine Small Coconut Farmers Trust fund bill, so that genuine small farmers themselves can benefit from the fund that was forcibly collected from them more than 30 years ago," Zarate said.

The controversial coco levy fund came from taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law years by alleged cronies of Marcos, including Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, with the promise of sharing investments and development of the industry.

In January 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of government that a 31-percent bloc of San Miguel Corp. shares was bought using the coconut levy funds – which constitute public money – with a caveat that the money should be used solely for the benefit of farmers and the industry.

The ruling became final on September 4 that same year. —LDF, GMA News