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People power for coconut farmers

As we celebrate this week the anniversary of People Power that restored our freedom in 1986, we should also discuss people power efforts over the past 29 years to gain economic freedom for our coconut farmers.

Coconut farmers achieved two milestones in the last two months of 2014.

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On Nov. 26, President Aquino committed to issue an Executive Order to ensure that the coconut levy would be used as a trust fund, with its interest income benefiting only the coconut farmers.

However, this could not be implemented because there was a need for the Supreme Court (SC) issuance of an “entry of judgment.”  Fourteen days later, the SC  issued an “entry of judgment.”

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These achievements were made possible by the 71-day march from Davao to Malacañang of the Kilos Magniniyog, composed mostly of small coconut farmers.

This week, a  public-private sector conference is being held to bring  justice to the coconut farmers.  Government representatives such as  Food Security Secretary Francis Pangilinan, Agriculture  Secretary Proceso Alcala and Philippine Coconut Authority administrator Romulo Arancon, Jr. will work with private sector stalwarts like former Assemblyman Oca Santos, former Senator Bobby Tañada, and COIR executive director  Joey Faustino to build on the gains achieved last year.

The National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) headed by Secretary Joel Rocamora stated:  “At 60 percent poverty incidence, coconut farmers are the poorest and most socially insecure sector in the country,  with income at P40 a day. Improving the lives of 4 million farmers and their families should therefore be a strategic focus of the government’s anti poverty program.”

Last year’s commitments on the coconut levy will not bring the desired justice for coconut farmers unless  two actions are undertaken.

First, the SC entry of judgment on the coconut levy cash needs to be supplemented.  The SC has to approve another entry of judgment so that the coconut farmers will have access not only to the cash component of  the coconut levy, but also its assets.  These include United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), Cocochem which processes coconut oil into oleo  chemicals, and six oil mills that process the copra into oil.  These critical assets should be controlled  by the farmers so that the benefits will go to them,  and not  to others. It is these assets that provide tremendous value-added to the farmers production of primary products.

Second, a draft executive order on the coconut levy should be amended. It now incorporates a plan to privatize these coconut levy assets.  This means that these  assets may be sold to people other than the coconut farmers.

On Feb. 10-11, Centro Saka executive director Omi Royandoyan met with leaders from Alyansa Agrikultura and Katarungan Land Rights in Davao .

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These leaders argued that the coconut levy  would become a farce if its assets would just be sold to the same parties who would further exploit them.  They instead recommended that these assets be controlled by a government-private sector mechanism that would ensure that they be used  for the benefit of coconut farmers.

The coconut farmers should unite  once more to influence the SC for a quick decision on the supplemental entry of judgment for the coconut levy assets.  They should then ask the  Office of the President to amend its draft executive order by deleting  the privatization plan for these assets.

This kind of people power is necessary so that coconut farmers will finally get the justice and benefits that they deserve from the coconut levy which, in the first place, they contributed to.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail [email protected] or telefax  8522112.)

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TAGS: coconut farmers, coconut levy, Kilos Magniniyog, people power
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