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Suarez seeks Bongbong's assurance to return coco levy fund to farmers

TIAONG, Quezon - Governor Danilo Suarez is hopeful presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. will help the province's coconut farmers benefit from the coco levy fund.

“Gusto lang namin makita ‘yung assurance niya (Marcos), because kami ay coconut-producing province, na tutulungan niya kami na suportahan ang coco levy, para maibalik sa aming mga magsasaka ‘yung perang talaga namang sinabi na ng Supreme Court na it will not go anywhere except to the farmers,” Suarez said in an ambush interview on the sidelines of the BBM-Sara UniTeam campaign rally in Tiaong Convention Center on Wednesday.

The coconut levy fund was generated from additional tax collections from farmers during the term of Marcos' father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government stated that initially, tax worth 55 centavos was imposed on the first domestic sale of every 100 kilos of copra or its equivalent in terms of other coconut products.

It was supposed to be utilized for programs for the benefit of coconut farmers, but was instead invested in enterprises allegedly for the personal interests of the elder Marcos' cronies.

The PCGG said the fund was used to purchase the United Coconut Planters Bank and the San Miguel Corporation.

But Suarez said he does not think Marcos will be affected by cronyism.

“I can see his sincerity. He wants to do something and maybe go back to the glory of his father,” he said.

Suarez said returning the coco levy fund to the farmers is an effort that has to be made in Congress.

“I need the support of senators kaya ‘yan sinasabi ko itong mga kandidatong senador tulungan niyo kami i-revert back ‘yung coco levy, nandiyan naman ‘yung pera saka lumalaki ‘yun eh,” he said.

“We’ve been earning so much, ‘yung dating P7 billion, palagay ko by this time mga P25 billion na ‘yun eh.” 

In this election, Suarez vowed that Marcos would win by 300,000 to 400,000 votes in the province. Marcos did not win in the province when he ran for vice president in 2016.

“I assure you this will be an unprecedented elections results sa darating na eleksyon,” Suarez said.

Never stolen

The former lawmaker believed that there was no “scam” that happened amid the coco levy fund issue, noting that the fund was never stolen.

“Maling-mali talaga ‘yung sinasabi natin na the coco levy is taken advantage by the crony of Marcos, mali eh. Those were all accusations that came out after the EDSA Revolution, those were all wrong,” Suarez said.

“Ang hindi lang talaga naipa-implement natin ‘yung ruling ng Supreme Court during ng time ng dilawan that it should be reverted back to coconut farmers,” he added.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that at least P71 billion worth of coco levy funds that had been used to purchase shares in San Miguel Corporation during the Marcos regime belong to the government and as such, should be used solely for the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.

In February 2021, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, which will establish a trust fund for coconut farmers from coco levy assets sequestered by the government. 

At the campaign rally in Lucena City, Suarez mentioned that he had already raised the issue of the coco levy fund with Marcos.

“I did mention to him na sabi ko, pagkapanalo mo na (if you win)… let’s talk about the coco levy,” Suarez said, adding Marcos answered in the affirmative.

For the governor, this means Marcos is committed to helping the coconut farmers.

“I assure you there is no reason that I can imagine why he will not support the plight of coconut farmers,” Suarez said.  —KBK/VBL, GMA News