MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III is ready to face coconut farmers who have marched 1,750 kilometers from Mindanao to the national capital to demand that the multi-billion peso coconut levy funds be used for their benefit.
“President Aquino and some Cabinet members will dialogue with the group Kilus Magniniyog tomorrow (November 26),” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr at a press briefing on Tuesday, November 25.
Coloma added: “The President is ready to hear the issues the farmers will raise and identify the programs the government is implementing for them.”
Seventy-one coconut farmers, who are also members of Kilus Magniniyog, have spent 71 days walking from Davao City to Manila to petition the government to begin using P71 billion in coconut taxes for programs that will directly benefit them.
Their march culminates in front of Malacañang Palace where they hope to speak to Aquino.
Specifically, they are asking for Congress to pass a bill that would create a perpetual trust fund for this purpose. They also want Aquino to sign an Executive Order creating or recognizing such a trust fund.
After farmers met with Speaker Sonny Belmonte and House Agriculture Committee chairman Mark Llandro Mendoza on Tuesday, a hearing on a Lower House version of the bill was scheduled to take place on December 16.
In Senate, Senator Cynthia Villar has committed to finish a committee report on a similar bill she has filed by the end of 2015.
But before any action from the legislative or executive branch of government can take place, a hiccup in the judiciary needs to be resolved.
The 2012 Supreme Court decision that ordered the funds to go to coconut farmers is not yet final and executory because the court is yet to issue an entry of judgment.
This means that the final decision of the court still needs to be entered by the clerk of court in the book of entries of judgment – a requirement of the Rules on Civil Procedure.
Asked about the position of the President on the demands of the coconut farmers, Coloma said the government is looking for ways to meet the needs of the farmers while waiting for the Supreme Court to act.
He said that agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Coconut Authority, now managed by Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, already have programs for the coconut sector.
This is not the first time Aquino will speak to marching farmers. In 2012, Aquino also met with farmers from Casiguran, Aurora, who had marched to protest the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO).
The surprise move led to Aquino calling for a review of the controversial development project. – Rappler.com
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