Senate a letdown re coco funds
In November 2014 Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate’s agriculture and food committee, in a meeting with the Kilus Magniniyog, openly stated how important it was for her and the Senate to pass the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund bill. She opined that coconut farmers are the poorest in the country, earning P50 a day; and, therefore, they should directly benefit from the recovered coco levy funds. She then committed to have the bill passed by the first quarter of 2015.
A series of hearings and meetings of the committee’s technical working group followed. The farmers took these hearings and meetings as a manifestation of Senator Villar and her committee’s very serious commitment to have the bill passed. By March 2015 a
committee report came out. Unfortunately, to this day she has not calendared it for plenary discussion.
In October 2015, President Benigno Aquino III finally certified the bill as urgent. The House of Representatives responded swiftly by passing the bill on third reading. For some unknown reason(s), the same certification, addressed to Senate President Franklin Drilon, only reached the Senate two months later. Even then, such delay would not have changed the urgent character of the bill.
Yet nothing has been heard from the Senate president regarding the matter. Drilon was among the Accra lawyers responsible for incorporating 14 holding companies to front for the acquisition of San Miguel Corp. shares using coco levy funds in 1983. These are exactly the same shares meant to initially fund the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.
Seven senators are now seeking higher office. But who among them champion the cause of the millions of coconut farmers? It is not about what they can do for these farmers when elected to higher positions; it is about what they have done for the coconut farmers as senators.
Coconut farmers see a most appropriate condition to finally benefit from the coco levies: The 2014 entry of judgment by the Supreme Court, Executive Order No. 180 signed by the President in 2015, the approved House Bill No. 6135 and the noncalendared Senate version (Senate Bill No. 2675), all these point to a single direction—the coco levy funds are public funds held in trust by the government, to be used for the direct benefits of the poor and marginalized coconut farmers and for the industry. There simply has been no better opportunity than now to have the funds benefit coconut farmers.
Nine years of levy imposition; add another four years of total control of the coco levy funds by Marcos cronies and 25 more years that this issue was under litigation. It is plainly untenable for the farmers to wait for more years before they benefit from the coco levy funds. And yet, the Senate would not move so that the proposed measure can go to a bicameral conference, and the President can finally sign into law and deliver social justice to the millions of coconut farmers.
That this dream of the coconut farmers has taken so long to come true speaks volumes about the sorry state of Philippine politics.
—JOEY FAUSTINO, executive director, Coconut Industry Reform Movement Inc., [email protected]