The Gardener’s Tale of PBBM and the Coconut Industry

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Three Pointers and Conclusion.

Reviewing the speeches and declarations of PBBM on the coconut industry, particularly in the lengthy no holds-barred dialogues he had with coconut farmer leaders of Bicolandia and Southern Tagalog in Lucena and Lipa, with the leaders of the Visayas and Mindanao who gathered together at Tagbilaran, and with the national consultation conducted in Makati where farmer leaders from all three island regions of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao got together with then-Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, one cannot miss the following important pointers repeatedly emphasized by PBBM (all available in YouTube) in that year of consultation 2015, just a little less than a decade ago.

Screengrab from YouTube- CTTO.
  • Firstly, he showed that he was acutely aware of the fact that the Coconut Advantage is Our Nation’s Natural Advantage.  It had become clear to him that one of our nation’s indubitably natural competitive factors is the “Tree of Life” – more popularly known everywhere as the coconut tree, the tree of a thousand uses: in food, fuel, energy, medicines, detergents and toiletries; a nut whose every part spells an invitation to added value and authentic usefulness – used in various names and in diverse forms by all peoples all over the world for the past so many hundreds of years.

There may be more than a few things going for the Philippines, but when one thinks of it – nothing beats the coconut advantage. More than any feature of this country, it is coconut that defines the Philippines. And it is coconut that is the realistic basis for the eco-industrialization of the whole country.

He knew that the world today needs the coconut more and more:

to preserve the environment with coco-based geo-textiles and anti-erosion mats and totally degradable plastics and toxin-neutralizing oil additives;

to do a maintenance job of the human body against AIDS and diabetes and SARS and COVID and heart ailments and other degenerative diseases, – to mention just two areas (planetary environment and human health) of its world-demand functions aside from the traditional need for good old coconut oil.

For most of the developed world, coconut is the greatest source of lauric oil (C12 – C14) – the most desired raw material for both non-food products like soaps and toiletries, personal care and detergent products, and as well for cooking oil and fats component of food products.

In addition to food products, wellness items coming from coconut are in ever greater demand. Recent studies have found that increasing amounts of coconut flour in bakery products result in what scientists call “lower glycemic food index.” Why? Because coconut flour from “sapal” is a good source of dietary fiber. Coconut sugar is in this same category, fortunately for diabetics and others who prefer natural to synthetic sugars.

Of late, coconut became the most desired fruit for its role in strengthening the human body’s immune system because of its richness in monolaurin, that medium-chain fatty acid (saturated fat) found in only two places: in coconut milk and mother’s milk. These fatty acids are burned almost immediately for energy production, and so they are not converted into body fat or cholesterol and do not affect blood cholesterol levels. If they could, all hospitals and clinics worldwide like to have a good constant supply around.

These therapeutic benefits of coconut and its by-products are protection against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a host of other degenerative illnesses. So, if there was oil that helped protect you from heart disease, cancer and other degenerative conditions, improved your digestion, strengthened your immune system, protected you from infectious illnesses, and helped you lose excess weight, would you not be interested? Fast growing numbers of people are.

Coconut skim milk, you may not have known, has been found to be a one-on-one equal to fresh cow’s milk in its nutrient composition, with the added superiority of being lactose-free: a boon for many lactose intolerant populations like the Philippines itself! How many billions of pesos would we save if we used this instead of expensively imported cow’s milk!

In sum, coconut oil is premium oil. It has no perfect substitute. The closest substitute is palm kernel oil (10% of palm oil).

  • Secondly, he said that the coconut advantage would never be realized unless or until the government got its act together in its necessary support for the farmers and the industry.

The tools of government to attain this end are mainly

a) The PCA, which is mandated by law on the productivity side to promote the rapid growth of the coconut industry and ensure that the coconut farmers become direct participants in such development and growth. But he heard about demoralization in the ranks of the PCA which used to be the top agri-extension agent of government though lately due to government neglect, too, became an agency of casuals or of employees raring to retire. Something has to be done effectively to change this state of affairs;

b) The CIIF-Oil Mills Group which was set up by coco levy funds purposely to establish a sound business platform as a catch-all for the PCA’s greater productivity in the coconut industry by providing quality products and services to local and international customers, and providing a sustainable and recurring source of revenue for coconut farmers nationwide through the establishment as well of a national structure of coco-industrialization to be the backbone of the national economy. But, then, he also heard that this group was deliberately weakened by corruption to the advantage of foreign and local birds of prey, even to the point of some of the mills being shut down and the proverbially famous Minola oil losing Php 50 some million pesos lately for the first time in its long history. Brand CIIF is globally famous and trustworthy. There is need to revitalize and re-engineer its present establishment to be attuned with the prevailing market trends which is not limited to coconut oil but rather include other value-adding food and non-food products through the utilization of the matured whole coconut fruit which the existing oil mills and prospective smaller-sized feeder mills can utilize as integrated coco hub. Needless to say, with the help of PCA and the Confederation of Coconut Farmers’ Organizations, CIIF-OMG should not be made to give up and sell out but, rather, gather new life for a new sunrise;

c) The UCPB or the United Coconut Planters Bank, which was supposed to be the bank of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry. It was immorally and irrationally allowed to be merged with (or devoured by) another government-owned bank through a mere E.O. which everyone knows cannot be above an R.A. or a P.D., to the detriment of the farmers and the industry. There is need to get back the UCPB as challenging as such a task might be.

These three government agencies funded by the coco levy were to serve the coconut organizations concretely. Obviously they haven’t done their job if one looks honestly at the relevant evidence, namely, the wealth or poverty of the coconut farmers themselves, and the competitiveness or lack thereof of our coconut products as they want to be present and cherished around the world. The broad majority of coconut farmers and workers are some of the poorest of the poor in our country. That is the first undeniable evidence of failure. And, secondly, our coconut products are being shamefully trounced by countries of much lesser coconut importance. Hence, PBBM has consistently advocated the twin measures of Farm Modernization and Rural (National) Eco-Industrialization.

To improve the income of coconut farmers:

1) We must help them modernize their farms, practice or adopt intercropping sub-systems in order to maximize the utilization of land and spread price risks to several crops – Farm Modernization;

2) We must increase domestic and international demand for coconut by developing more uses for coconut and its by-products in food, medicine, energy and other industrial uses which continue to have great potentials – Rural and Ecological Industrialization.

Where will the farmers and their allies get the capital to make this great leap forward? Let us apply the proceeds of the coco levy funds to these areas of endeavor and by this historic correction justice will rain on earth and peace and prosperity bloom in beauty.

Thirdly, again looking at and listening to his talks and declarations, PBBM clearly shows he understands quite deeply, as most politicians don’t, the precise nature of the ownership of the coco levy funds and assets. He takes his cue from settled Court doctrine. Are these funds public or private? They are trust-owned by government; so, they are public funds. But they are beneficially owned by all the coconut farmers; so, they are private, for the benefit of coconut farmers and never to be regarded as general funds. Thus, in all his talks and declarations, PBBM emphatically says that the utilization of these trust funds must be governed by a Foundation or Corporation wherein both government and farmers’ representatives are Directors or Board Members. In today’s law (R.A.11524) a mere committee governs the utilization of the trust funds, all members of which belong to the Finance family. In their recognition at time of legislative deliberation that PCA had been utterly weakened through the years, the law as passed distributed the funds being used in any given year to various agencies many of whom have very little or nothing to do with farmers and coconuts. So, the new law needs amending in the soonest to be in conformity with the philosophy of Court Doctrine as regards the real ownership of these funds and assets and the need for guarantees that the real owners become the true beneficiaries rather than that these funds become wasted by bureaucrats who know no better than to mark time, if at all.

Without prejudice to pursuing the necessary amendments to R.A.11524, which may take a little while coming, the urgent need today is a unified and coordinated approach on the part of government and the farmers themselves, which will mean a Tripartite Agreement among and between PCA, CIIF and CONFED. This Agreement will mean an institutional partnership between and among those three parties towards forming and establishing a mechanism to create synergy and harmony in the utilization of coco levy funds and the implementation of projects identified and proposed by coconut farmers through CCFOP-CONFED for an inclusive growth and development. Rather than a fragmented approach, this unity view might augur more surely for success in a common endeavor.  (Charles Avila)