NO question about it: Romeo “Omi” C. Royandoyan has done a lot to advance the cause of the Filipino coconut farmer.
Currently the executive director of Centro Saka Inc. (CSI), a non-government group which, among others, undertakes rural development studies, Royandoyan was among the farmer-representatives appointed to the board of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), thanks to court decisions which ruled that the lender was acquired using funds collected from coconut farmers.
Since farmers technically owned the bank—assets bought using their funds were therefore theirs—they were entitled to representation at the bank’s board, which, in turn, was made possible by the courts and the Presidential Commission on Good Government under the late great Haydee Yorac, shortly after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was swept to power in January 2001.
Although Royandoyan, together with fellow farmer rep Jose Ma. “Joey” Faustino, was later removed from the board—presidents are entitled to change their minds especially regarding Marcos cronies—his commitment has never wavered.
To this day, Royandoyan, Faustino, former general Virgilio David (who was brave enough to expose the coco levy scam during the Marcos dictatorship), and many others remain committed to see that the funds collected from farmers are used for their benefit.
After all, coconut farmers have suffered more than enough.
Besides being forced to pay for heavy levies which amounted to P9.6 billion (as of a 1986 audit), coconut farmers have never benefitted from these taxes.
Instead, through a series of complex arrangements which transferred public funds for private ownership, the levies were unlawfully used by Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” C. Cojuangco Jr. to buy a bank (i. e. UCPB) and acquire a controlling stake—anywhere from 47 to 51 percent—in San Miguel Corporation (SMC), the Philippines’ largest food company.
Although coconut farmers have won significant legal victories against Cojuangco—in May 2007, the courts allowed the partial sale of UCPB and SMC shares, proceeds of which will be held in trust by the government for the farmers—they still remain uncertain when their protracted struggle will end.
Like any other oppressed, disenfranchised, and marginalized group in this country, coconut farmers and their interests are easily ignored, no thanks to a powerful, influential, and moneyed class whose intentions almost always run contrary to the greater good.
This is probably why Royandoyan decided to author a book about the contentious, complicated coconut levy issue: to let the whole world know about what is perhaps one of the biggest scams in Philippine history, perpetrated by one of the most powerful and influential Marcos cronies.
Entitled “Long and Tortuous Road to Coconut Levy Recovery,” the book, published this year, is the very first volume in what appears to be the CSI’s Rural Development Review series.
However, despite its numerous potentials for dramatic storytelling, the book reads like an academic paper.
Which is not flattering at all.
Nor does it help the coconut farmers’ cause.
Had it been written with the regular reader in mind—regular reader here defined as someone who knows absolutely nothing about the issue—the book could have had more chances of generating support for the farmers. In turn, more support could mean more pressure for government to set things straight, underscoring once more the power of the written word; a power properly harnessed by those who sought to change the world.
Unfortunately, of the book’s 184 pages, only a handful of passages
can be considered as powerful.
Rife with legalese, punctuated by vague sentences, the book’s text drastically lacks in narrative what it offers in the way of substance.
Which is unfortunate.
Instead of interpreting, laymanizing, and contextualizing the many legal and technical concepts surrounding the coconut levy cases—there are eight of them in all, one of which involves an attempt at acquiring a stake in Pepsi Cola—the book in its own obtuse way merely replicates whatever the courts have said, possibly contributing to the readers’ confusion.
Nevertheless, Royandoyan’s book—and CSI’s efforts to such work publicly available—represents an important step towards documenting what may very well be one of the largest crimes in Philippine history.