Move that coco trust bill, senators urged
It has been a year since the Kilus Magniniyog, a coalition of nine coconut farmer federations and two nongovernment organizations, had a series of dialogues with President Aquino and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, after the farmers’ 71-day march from Davao City to Malacañang—in their campaign to make sure that the P71-billion coco levy funds, recovered from a portion of San Miguel Corp. shares, will be used for their benefit.
Subsequently, Malacañang did issue two executive orders on the coco levies. But they fell short of protecting the funds and mandating essential consultations with the sector. The coconut farmers are, therefore, left with their proposed bill as the only viable option to safeguard the funds and ensure the use thereof for their direct benefit. Kilus Magniniyog is now, more than ever, eagerly pursuing the passage of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund (CFITF) bill by the 16th Congress.
Currently, the bill is being tackled on plenary in both chambers of Congress. There appears to be no big debatable issue as to the creation of the CFITF and its use. The bill embraces the essential features pushed by the sector: a perpetual trust fund to be created from the recovered coco levies; annual interest earnings to be used for programs directly benefiting the poor coconut farmers; substantial participation of the sector’s representatives in planning, decision-making and program implementation; and, a “Coco Levy Roadmap” for utilization guidance as a subset of the more general Coco Industry Development Roadmap to be funded by the General Appropriations Act.
It would help to be reminded, though, that the coconut levies, declared by the Supreme Court as public funds, are essentially held in trust for all the coconut farmers. Government, therefore, is obliged to design programs for the sectors’ direct benefit. But in order to do so, government must also be willing to put its trust in the sector and make decisions hand in hand with it. This means that the sector be given a minimum of 50-percent representation in decision-making.
The efforts of prodevelopment House members are laudable. The House committee on agriculture and its technical working group have seriously consulted with the sector in order to come up with a consolidated bill, House Bill No. 6135. While the Senate has done the same, it is unfortunate that its version of the bill appears to have stalled. We, therefore, appeal to the senators to hasten passage of its version of the coco trust fund bill.
Time is running out for the 16th Congress. There is really no reason to make the coconut farmers wait further after four decades of waiting. The way it looks there exists no reason why the CFITF bill might not be enacted—except politics. We can only hope that our legislators and the Aquino administration can withstand adverse political influences for the sake of the millions of coconut farmers.
—VADESHNA SURIO, program officer, Coconut Industry Reform (COIR) Movement Inc., [email protected]
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