Coconut farmers want to see coco levy EO first
MANILA, Philippines – While coconut farmer leaders were heartened by the hospitality shown by President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday, November 26, they said they would hold their breath until they see the draft executive order the President promised to sign to ensure that coco levy fund is utilized for their benefit.
The EO will be a temporary measure while Congress is in the process of passing a coco levy fund bill which Aquino also promised to certify as urgent.
The Supreme Court decided two years ago that certain shares in San Miguel Corporation were purchased by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr, uncle of the President, using the coco levy fund collected by the Marcos administration to help the coconut farmers. Until now, however, the SC has yet to make an entry of judgment for the decision to be implemented.
“Wala pa 'yung draft. Gusto muna naming makita. Hindi pa klaro kung kailan ito gagawin,” Kilus Magniniyog chairman Ed Mora told Rappler on Wednesday after the farmers’ dialogue with Aquino. (There is no draft yet. We want to see it first. It’s not clear when it will be ready)
Twenty-four coconut farmers out of 71 were granted an audience with Aquino inside Malacañang Palace after their 71-day march from Davao City to the national capital.
The action was to call for P71 billion in coconut levy funds to be used for programs that will directly benefit smallholder coconut farmers.
The word down the grapevine before the scheduled dialogue was that Aquino would present the marchers with a draft Executive Order, said Mora.
But during the dialogue, Aquino said the draft was still in the drawing board. He gave assurances, however, that as soon as the Supreme Court issues an entry of judgement making final and executory its 2012 decision on the fate of the coconut levy funds, he will sign the EO.
Mora said that his group is in agreement with Aquino that all initiatives for the mobilization of the funds are tied to the Supreme Court decision.
He also confirmed that Aquino agreed with the idea of creating a perpetual trust fund in which the P71 billion would be kept as capital while only its interest would be used for pro-coconut farmer programs.
But he hopes that both the EO to be signed and the bills to be passed will include the specific wishlist of the coconut farmer organizations.
His group has already given Aquino and both Houses of Congress a copy of an EO they drafted as well as a People’s Initiative Bill.
The documents ask for specific programs such as village-level coconut hubs that will give smallholder coconut farmers free access to facilities that would enable them to make a variety of products from coconut.
They want the funds to go to localized projects like this instead of to programs for the coconut sector already being implemented by various government agencies.
Aquino ‘prepared well’
Mora and the other representatives of coconut farmer organizations were impressed by the amount of preparation Malacañang devoted to the meeting.
The meeting, which took place at the Heroes’ Hall, was attended by many Cabinet members and Malacañang staff. Secretaries in attendance included Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Secretary Francis Pangilinan, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.
Mora also noted that Aquino stayed for the entire duration of the 3-hour meeting.
“Hindi siya lumabas ni isang beses (He didn’t leave the room, not even once),” he said.
Asked how he felt about the outcome of the meeting, Mora said he would only know once he saw the minutes of the meeting in “black and white.”
The minutes, listing down all the points of discussion, will be presented to both Aquino and the coconut farmers tomorrow for them to sign.
“Doon ko malalaman kung magiging masaya ako (That’s when I’ll know if I should be happy or not).” – Rappler.com