Time for Duterte to ‘force’ enactment of coco levy law
PRESIDENT DUTERTE has been consistently speaking of coconut farmers’ benefits from the recovered coconut levy fund. He did so during his 2016 presidential campaign, he continues to do so when he assumed the presidency. Rarely does a national leader initiate an advocacy for the poor, marginalized coconut farmers. However, it would help if he would be more specific as to how the farmers could actually benefit from the fund and hone the entire government machinery for such a purpose.
The coconut levy fund is recognized as contributions from copra producers. (Ninety-two percent of the copra industry’s workforce is composed of small farmers and farmworkers.) Being so, the Court did not fail to mention that the fund is public in nature but for a special purpose—only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and the development of the coconut industry. Prominent in the presidential decrees governing the collection of the coconut levy is this intent—that the coconut farmers participate in and benefit from the growth of the industry. Unfortunately, this professed intent was made to merely cloak the biggest scam ever in Philippine history.
Proposals to establish the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund are pointed toward correcting the mistakes of past presidential decrees. The proposals clearly state that all of the recovered coconut levies should be used to provide direct benefits to coconut farmers and their communities along the lines of farm improvements, community-based coconut enterprises for value-addition, strengthening and capacitating farmer organizations, and social benefits (e.g., educational scholarships for the farmers’ children). Definitely it would take a new legislation to actualize benefits for real coconut farmers.
On the other hand, it is a given that just like any other significant industry, government is obliged to set aside general appropriations for its development. This obligation is separate and distinct from the purpose of the coconut levy. But there ought to be a convergence of these two mandates to maximize positive impact on the lives of impoverished coconut farmers and farmworkers, the poorest in the country’s farmer sector.
The coconut levy fund is not supposed to be used by government for its usual procurement of planting materials or for the rehabilitation and expansion of the industry, as some Cabinet officials want to. As contributions entrusted to government, the fund should be used on programs directly benefiting the contributors (farmers) and their communities so that they may share in the development of the entire industry.
Having consistently expressed favoring poor farmers, the President should certify as urgent a law for this purpose. I recall that during the dialogue with coconut farmers in March 2016, then presidential aspirant Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte stated that he was ready to force this issue in Congress. That time has come.
—JOEY FAUSTINO, executive director, Coconut Industry Reform (COIR) Movement Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org
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