MANILA, Philippines – The coconut farmers are more than half-way done with their 71-day, 1,750-kilometer journey. Will Aquino face them in Malacañang?
Pia Ranada reports.
Coconut farmer Dionisio Abao walked more than 1,500 kilometers from Davao City. He will walk 130 kilometers more to reach Malacañang Palace.
DIONISIO ABAO, COCONUT FARMER: Kahit matanda na ako sumali rin ako ng paglalakbay upang makamit namin ang magandang kinabukasan para sa lahat ng magniniyog.
(Even if I am old, I joined this march so that we can create a better future for all coconut farmers.)
He is one of 71 marching coconut farmers who seek an audience with President Aquino. They want P71 billion in coco levy funds to become a perpetual trust fund for the benefit of all coconut farmers. The funds have been unused for 2 years despite a Supreme Court decision saying the funds must benefit the stakeholders.
The farmers brave the elements during their 71-day march.
GEORGE MALBUN JR, COCONUT FARMER: Rain or shine po kami, tuloy tuloy pa rin ang lakad namin. Tsaka yung pinaka mahirap yung kahapon, yung galing nang Del Gallego papuntang Calauag, 63 kilometers ata yun. Pero kayang kaya pa rin.
(Rain or shine, we continue our march. The hardest part was yesterday when we walked from Del Gallego to Calauag, which is I think 63 kilometers. But we can still do it.)
They are fed in the towns they pass or get food and water from the truck following them.
Coconut farmers are among the poorest of the poor in the country. Most earn between P10,000 to P16,000 year. Almost half live below the poverty line. The coco levy funds could turn this around. It could be used to help coconut farmers diversify products
JESSICA CANTOS, HEAD EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, NATIONAL ANTI-POVERTY COMMISSION: Sa mahabang panahon talagang kopra lang ang prinoproduce ng ating mgacoconut farmers when in fact marami namang produkto na pwede magawa diyan. Ang problem, walang processing facilities that would support the other products.
(For a long time, our coconut farmers were only producing copra when in fact there are many other products they can make. The problem is there are no processing facilities to support the other products.)
Diverse, higher-value products could increase the income of farmers. But bills to create the trust fund are stuck in Congress and President Aquino has been silent on the issue.
ED MORA, CHAIRMAN, KILUS MAGNINIYOG: Yun po yung dala dala naming pag-asa na haharapin kami ni PNoy pagdating ng Malacañang…Walang dahilan na hindi kami harapin ng Pangulo at wala ring dahilan na hindi siya mag-desisyon.
(That is the hope we bring with us, that PNoy will face us when we arrive in Malacañang. There is no reason for him not to face us and there is no reason for him not to make a decision.)
Every now and then, the farmers take a rest, or indulge in a favorite Filipino past-time. But sooner than later, the march must go on.
Pia Ranada, Rappler, Quezon. – Rappler.com