Monday, September 7, 2009

From coconuts to other ‘nuts’

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, 9 a.m., various organizations of coconut farmers, processors, and dealers will converge at the newly-opened Coconut House at the Quezon Memorial Circle . Under the aegis of the Coconut Forum, led by organizations such as the Coconut Industry for Reform Movement (COIR), Virgin Coconut Oil Producers (VCOP), Cooperative of Virgin Coconut Producers and Traders (COVCOPT), this initiative is being supported by many veteran champions of the coconut industry’s democratization. They include: Bobby Tañada and Oscar Santos; Reps. Leonardo Montemayor, Erin Tañada, Proceso Alcala, and other legislators from coconut-growing provinces; plus government officials such as Danny Coronacion of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) and Oscar Garin, administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), who will be represented by his information chief Thelma Tolentino.

One of the main issues driving this sector to sound the alarm is the impending conversion of the CIIF’s San Miguel Corporation (SMC) shares from “common and voting” to “preferred and non-voting” status, which would result in the coconut farmers’ loss of control and participation over their investments in the said corporation.

Although the SMC management today is offering higher dividends in exchange for this conversion, no one can really rest assured since any earning levels will all depend on the performance of the company’s stocks. A food and beverage conglomerate that is now running amuck, investing in politically-tainted and non-food interests, cannot offer assurances of safety and security or the long-term yield of its shares.

The CIIF is supposed to be only for “coconut industry investment” but that is certainly not where the SMC board is putting this money into. As I understand, a separate fund is to be created after the conversion. Still, the problem is the absence of any guidelines as to where the money should be placed.

The coconut industry sector has the potential to lift the Philippine national economy out of the woods. It can give 25 percent of our people meaningful livelihood once it increases the value added to its production by up to 10 times. To be done through “integrated processing,” measures range from instituting import substitution of dairy products, amounting to $1 billion a year; to exporting high value oils and industrial chemicals; to replacing chemical imports for the detergent industry; and exporting other pharma-, nutri- and cosme-ceuticals.

Mr. Joey Faustino of COIR, the main grassroots coconut farmers’ group, has written a paper in August 2009 entitled, “Where have the coconut levy shares in San Miguel gone?” It states, “Today the real coconut farmers are again being duped into an out-of-court settlement to the advantage of the same privileged few despite a victory in the Courts. And while court decisions are stalled or left out for some political compromise, the sequestered coco levy fund assets appear to slowly dissipate or disappear under layers and layers of corporate maneuverings… Action is yet to be seen both from the House committee and the PCGG. Meanwhile, where has the ‘Cojuangco’ block gone to by now? That too was funded by the coconut levies with contributions coming from the millions of already impoverished coconut farmers.”

Another interesting issue to be raised on Tuesday is the “other levy” on coconut. Imposed by the US since the time of Quezon, from which money was used to build Quezon City and open up Mindanao, this levy, or what’s officially called an “excise tax” by the US, was pushed because it feared the influx of low-cost coconut oil and milk into its market; thus, multiplying to 200 percent the price of our coconut oil exports.

Save for the masked inducement, an ominous condition imposed on the Philippine government’s use of this excise tax was that it “would not be… for the development of the coconut industry.” Even then, almost 100 years ago, the US already knew that our coconut industry was the key to developing an independent, strong Philippine economy. Maybe this is why even today, a prominent “Kano” in our midst continues to stunt the industry.

As I started writing this column, Linggoy Alcuaz informed me of Sen. Ping Lacson’s supposed privileged speech about President Joseph Estrada on Tuesday. Of course, the Dacer-Corbito case immediately came to mind. Based on his information, however, including some from Sandra Cam, Linggoy said that it will just be one among other issues Lacson would be raising. So my reaction was, “He’s nuts. Character talaga itong si Ping .” The fact that the Dacer family itself is pinpointing Ping really settles much of the question; and that’s why he has to try very hard to distract the public. Coupled with his call for Erap to withdraw in favor of Noynoy, it’s clear that Ping is doing the exact same thing as in 2004--divide the anti-Gloria opposition.

These people advising Erap to withdraw are losing sight of the fact that this will surely cause the opposition to lose up to 30 percent of the masa vote to Noli de Castro. Well, that’s probably their real agenda. Those egging Noynoy to gun for the top post for should listen well to the vast majority who are saying, “Musmusin pa siya.” They should push instead for his merger with Erap to make the opposition unbeatable, even with the administration’s use of automated cheating. Cory Aquino in 2007 sought Erap to include Noynoy in the opposition’s senatorial ticket. She later publicly apologized to Erap for Edsa II. If these aren’t enough food for thought for Erap’s detractors, then I don’t know what else can pierce through their thick skulls.

After mulling about Lacson in a similar way, it dawned on me that here we see not only a character but a “police character,” who’s as devious as the rest of the devious civil society can be.

(Tune in to 1098AM, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m; Global News Network, Destiny Cable Channel 7, Tuesday, 8:15 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on the TVU Internet Channel 61713 on “Sept. 11, WTC Attack/Noynoy for Prexy or VP” with Linggoy Alcuaz and Manny Portes; also visit