MANILA, Philippines – Farmers marched to Malacañang ahead of the 2nd State of the Nation Address to press President Rodrigo Duterte on his campaign promise to return to them P75 billion in coconut levy funds.
Farmers first trooped to the Philippine Coconut Authority in Quezon City, where they held a dialogue with Cabinet Secretary and PCA chair Leoncio Evasco Jr, before heading to Malacañang Palace in Manila to personally deliver a letter addressed to the President. The group, however, was barred from entering the gate.
Malacañang directed the Presidential Action Center to receive the letter.
They also brought with them a copy of the manifesto signed by then presidential candidate Duterte before hundred of coconut farmers in Catanauan, Quezon, in March 2016.
During the campaign, Duterte vowed to return the coco levy funds in his first 100 days in office. He also vowed to add funds to strengthen the coconut industry, to support the recovery of other assets bought by farmers’ taxes, and to “force” the issue with Congress. But more than a year later, these promises remain unfulfilled.
The coco levy refers to taxes collected from farmers from 1971 to 1983. They were meant to develop the coconut industry, but in the end were used by cronies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos – some still influential in business and politics – to invest in and buy businesses for their own profit. (READ: Coco levy fund scam: Gold for the corrupt, crumbs for the farmers)
Ed Mora, convener of KILUS Magniniyog, said poor farmers have yet to receive a single benefit since the coco levy was imposed on small coconut farmers more than 40 years ago.
“Ilang administrasyon na ang nagdaan, hindi pa rin nadarama ng mga magniniyog ang bunga ng ilang henerasyong pagpapakasakit at pagpapakahirap sa niyugan (Many administrations have passed but we, the coconut farmers, have yet to gain from generations of hardship in coconut farms),” Mora said.
The Supreme Court earlier ruled that a law is needed to use the funds. There is already a bill pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives seeking to create a trust fund.
In the Senate, the bill is in the period of amendments while in the House, it is still up for sponsorship.
Under former president Benigno Aquino III the bill did not prosper. Businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Aquino’s uncle, was the supposed brains behind the levy, (READ: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)
Mention in SONA 2017
Farmers said it is high time for Duterte to keep his word and rally Congress, filled with his allies, to pass the measure. (READ: New PCA chief ‘confident’ coco levy bill will pass in 2017)
Joey Faustino, executive director of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR), earlier told Rappler that the best way for the President to do this is by mentioning the bill in his 2nd SONA on Monday, July 24.
“And that’s exactly what we’re asking from him – to force the issue now with Congress during his SONA (State of the Nation Address) because there is already a pending bill. Push for it,” Faustino said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, sponsor of the coco levy bill in the Senate, echoed the same sentiment.
“Isang taon na ang lumipas, ngunit hindi pa rin ito naipapatupad gaya ng inaasahan. Umaasa tayo na sa nalalapit na State of the Nation Address ni Pangulong Duterte, ay itutulak niya ang mabilis na pagpasa ng panukalang batas para sa Coco Levy Trust Fund at hihikayatin ang mga kasamahan natin sa Kongreso na gawin itong prayoridad,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
(One year has passed but the bill is not yet passed, as expected. We are hoping that in the State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, he would push for the swift passage of the bill and would push our colleagues in Congress to make it a priority.) – Rappler.com