Coconut farmers need worthy champion in gov’t
It has been a year since President Duterte assumed office. During his campaign he promised to deliver social justice to the millions of poor coconut farmers in the country. Back in March 2016, then Mayor Duterte, with his running mate Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, signed a commitment to coconut farmers in Quezon province, assuring them of benefits from the recovered coconut levy. The two candidates were referring to some of the cases involving the recovery of the coconut levy filed by the Philippine government against Danding Cojuangco and cohorts that were decided with finality after almost 30 years in court.
Since October 2012 the government has been in possession of some P69.5 billion in cash coming from the redemption of preferred shares in San Miguel Corp. — a block of shares funded by the levy way back in 1983. This amount has feebly grown to
P75 billion at present, as more than 80 percent of the fund earns no interest at all. Worse, not a single centavo may be used until such time that a law governing the utilization of the fund is in place.
The issue of the coconut levy recovery and utilization has been repeatedly addressed by administrations from past to present since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. All failed in their promises due to prolonged court litigation — or so they say. But in the main, it was really the lack of political will of leaders or their closeness and subservience to Cojuangco and associates that prevented the sequestered or recovered coconut levy from benefiting the coconut farmers who so badly deserve and need it.
For decades the coconut farming sector has persevered despite continuing frustrations and dampened expectations from politicians. The Kilos Magniniyog march from Davao City to Malacañang finally pushed the courts to issue an entry of judgment on the case of the SMC shares in December 2014, more than two years after the final decision; pushed the Aquino administration to issue an executive order after keeping mum on the topic; and pushed the House of Representatives to pass the bill creating a Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund on third reading during the 16th Congress.
But politics continues to stand inthe way, as it has for decades. Despite promises, the Senate miserably dropped the counterpart bill at its end the last time around. Today the 17th Congress is again abuzz with the same bill at hand. But where it is really headed is so uncertain, as not much has changed in the legislature.
Coconut farmers continue their battle for social justice. But they need a worthy champion in the government who can change the odds for the better. President Duterte will have to “force the issue in Congress” if his commitment still stands.
JOEY FAUSTINO, executive director, Coconut Industry Reform (COIR) Movement Inc., [email protected]