FUL­FILL CAM­PAIGN PROM­ISE, HELP THE CO­CONUT FARM­ERS

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - LETTERS -

It is sad to note that in his two-hour State of the Na­tion Ad­dress, the Pres­i­dent missed the chance to urge Congress to fi­nally ren­der jus­tice to al­most a fourth of the Filipino pop­u­la­tion, the mil­lions of poor co­conut farm­ers and their fam­i­lies. This jus­tice has been ex­cru­ci­at­ingly elu­sive for al­most 50 years now, adding to their bur­den gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

I am re­fer­ring to the fruits and ben­e­fits that had been due decades ago to the poor co­conut farm­ers via the coco le­vies. In the Batasan Pam­bansa in 1984 I saw what was ter­ri­bly in­iq­ui­tous about th­ese con­tro­ver­sial coco levy funds. I filed a res­o­lu­tion to au­dit the funds in or­der to make sure that the ben­e­fits reach those who were in dire need. The rub­ber-stamp Batasan merely brushed it aside. Later, I was warned not to take it up any­more as it would be pre­car­i­ous un­der mar­tial law.

In 1986 Mar­cos fled to Hawaii with the fall of his dic­ta­tor­ship. I again went back to Congress un­der the pres­i­dency of Cory Aquino and filed the res­o­lu­tion to in­ves­ti­gate the said funds. I did not, how­ever, get enough sup­port from my fel­low leg­is­la­tors. This was about the same time that the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on Good Gov­ern­ment was cre­ated and tasked to re­cover ill-got­ten wealth. This led to the fil­ing of var­i­ous cases in court against Mar­cos and his cronies, the coco levy cases in­cluded.

Upon fin­ish­ing my term in Congress in 1993, I went on to ad­dress the is­sue with civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions. We or­ga­nized the Co­conut In­dus­try Re­form Move­ment with the pri­mary pur­pose of get­ting the coco levy funds uti­lized for the ben­e­fit of the poor co­conut farm­ers. We in­volved our­selves with lobby work for ap­pro­pri­ate leg­is­la­tion, filed our own plead­ings in courts for swift res­o­lu­tion of the cases and launched cam­paigns for the Ex­ec­u­tive to give due at­ten­tion to the decades-old so­cial in­jus­tice. We tried with all our might to mo­bi­lize the three branches of gov­ern­ment on the is­sue. One would think that co­or­di­na­tion be­tween branches of gov­ern­ment should have hap­pened ef­fort­lessly with­out any in­ter­ven­tion by civil so­ci­ety. But that sim­ply was not the case on the is­sue of the coco levy funds. The po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­flu­ence and reach of those in­volved in the cases far out­weigh the pow­er­less­ness and poverty of the mil­lions of co­conut farm­ers.

But for­tu­nately th­ese ef­forts have not gone sim­ply un­no­ticed. In 2012, af­ter al­most 30 years of lit­i­ga­tion, the Supreme Court ren­dered de­ci­sions with fi­nal­ity declar­ing cer­tain por­tions of the as­sets bought with coco levy funds to be of pub­lic na­ture and owned by gov­ern­ment in trust for all the co­conut farm­ers. It took yet an­other two years and a coura­geous march by a set of co­conut farm­ers un­der the ban­ner of Kilus Magniniyog from Davao City to Mala­cañang in 2014 to gain the at­ten­tion of all three branches of gov­ern­ment. The Supreme Court fi­nally ren­dered an en­try of judg­ment on their fi­nal de­ci­sion. Pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der on the uti­liza­tion of the re­cov­ered coco levy funds that was later ques­tioned in Court. He also is­sued a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of ur­gency for a bill es­tab­lish­ing a trust fund for the co­conut farm­ers. The leg­is­la­ture tack­led the Co­conut Farm­ers and In­dus­try Trust Fund Bill to gov­ern uti­liza­tion and en­sure that ben­e­fits ac­crue to the poor co­conut farm­ers. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed it on third read­ing but the Se­nate com­mit­tee dropped it for no an­nounced valid rea­son.

Now with the 17th Congress, and un­der the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Co­conut Farm­ers and In­dus­try Trust Fund Bill re­mains an is­sue. Pres­i­dent Duterte, dur­ing his cam­paign, com­mit­ted to give the ben­e­fits due the co­conut farm­ers via the coco le­vies. The ex­ec­u­tive in­cluded the bill in the list of pri­or­ity leg­is­la­tion.

With some P75 bil­lion cash re­cov­ered in the hands of the Bu­reau of Trea­sury since 2012; ap­pro­pri­ate bills filed in the leg­is­la­ture such as Se­nate Bill No. 1233; and with the bills in­cluded in the list of the ex­ec­u­tive’s pri­or­i­ties, why could it not merit an ex­tra push?

So much time and ef­fort have been put into this up­hill bat­tle which un­ques­tion­ably passes on con­tin­u­ing de­pri­va­tion to the mil­lions of co­conut farm­ers for decades. It is, in­deed, de­press­ing that, un­til to­day, the co­conut farm­ers are still left to push for their own rights and claim to so­cial jus­tice. OS­CAR “KA OCA” SAN­TOS, Co­conut In­dus­try Re­form (COIR) Move­ment, coir_inc@ya­hoo.com

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