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Return of coco levy funds improbable under a Marcos presidency —Anakpawis

Anakpawis national chairperson Rafael Mariano on Friday branded the move to seek assurance from presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to return the coco levy funds to farmers as “preposterous.”

Mariano, former chief of the Department of Agrarian Reform, said this “reeks of a flagrant effort of historical revisionism and rehabilitation.”

It was Quezon Governor Danilo Suarez who said he is hopeful that Marcos will help their coconut farmers get back the coco levy funds if the latter wins in Eleksyon 2022.

“It is like stupidly asking the thief to voluntarily return the stolen money and just let the robber walk away," Mariano said in statement, noting that it was Marcos’ father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who “facilitated the theft” of the funds from coconut farmers.

"In case Governor Suarez forgot, the coco levy funds were supposed to support the development of the livelihood of coconut farmers and the local coconut industry. But instead of delivering it to the beneficiaries, the collected taxes were looted by Marcos and his cronies. And now Mr. Suarez displays audacity to ask the son of the plunderer to willfully return the stolen levies,” Mariano said.

Mariano said if Suarez is really sincere about recovering the coco levy funds, he should instead support the struggle of small coconut farmers as well as the legal measures that aim to recover them.

"As far as the small coconut farmers in Quezon province are concerned, another pro-Marcos administration, more so one that’s led by a Marcos, would mean that the stolen coco levy funds would remain out of reach and those who plundered it will remain off the hook," he said.

"Oligarchs who made fortunes from corruption and engaged in cronyism must never be allowed in public office again,” Mariano added.

Asked for his reaction to Mariano's remarks, Suarez said: "I respect [their] position, but I do not agree with them."

Suarez said he will formally inquire about the "physical status" of the coco levy funds in the future.

"We have past presidents, we have PNoy (former President Benigno Aquino III) and we have Cory (former President Corazon Aquino). My question is nasaan 'yung pera? (where is the money?) Is it paper money, 'yan ba ay papel na sinasabing we still have the funds pero physically wala na? (Is it a document that states we still have the funds but physically we no longer have them?)" Suarez told GMA News Online.

"I have that suspicion na baka 'yang pera, alam mo naman they can juggle the funds basta pag kailangan nila 'yung cash, they can move cash... so 'yun ang tinatanong ko, pakita niyo sa amin nasaan 'yung pera," he added.

(I have that suspicion that the money, you know, they can juggle the funds, especially when they need it. They can move cash. That's what I'm asking. Show us where the money is.)

GMA News Online also reached out to the Marcos camp for comment on the matter, but it has yet to reply as of posting time.

Suarez had expressed his belief that there was no “scam” that happened amid the coco levy fund issue, noting that the fund was never stolen. He said the accusations about the fund were all wrong, adding that those only came out after the EDSA Revolution.

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 belonged 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. — Anna Felicia Bajo/RSJ/VBL, GMA News