Oppose amendments to coco levy fund bill, senators urged

Oppose amendments to coco levy fund bill, senators urged

File photo shows Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who was then the CBCP President, consoling one of the 71 coconut farmers who, for two months, walked around 1,772 kms from Davao City to Manila, November 25, 2014. CBCP News

By CBCP News

March 12, 2018

MANILA, Philippines

The National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa) called on senators to junk provisions of the pending senate bill that would deny farmers’ their rights to decide on the coco levy fund amounting to P75 billion.

Calling for the resolution of the protracted problem of the coconut farmers, Nassa executive secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez said that “this 40-year injustice has to end.”

“We are appealing to our senators to please give our farmers their rights on how to utilize these coco levies,” Gariguez said as senators deliberate on the Coconut Farmers’ and Industry Trust Fund, or the Senate Bill 1233.

The Church has been supporting the farmers in their struggle to recover the coco levy fund and to put it into good use, management and administration.

In a letter sent to the senators, Nassa together with the farmers’ group KILUS Magniniyog particularly cited that the coco levies must be treated as a special fund and not as part of the general fund.

The funds, they said, must be used solely to develop the coconut industry with small coconut farmers as direct participants and primary beneficiaries.

They added that while the Philippine Coconut Authority needs reforms, it should not be part of this law because the reconstituted PCA governing board may run the risk of being struck down as unconstitutional in court.

There is also a question on the PCA charter, which is limited only to coconut oil production, and may be overburdened by its other regulatory functions.

“Historically, the PCA was part of the coco levy scam itself. The PCA is also a Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation (GOCC), whose primary function is to generate revenues,” Gariguez said.

He also reiterated the need to immediately enact the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Law, which will provide a Trust Fund Committee composed majority of farmers, paving the way for the just utilization, management and administration of the recovered coco levy fund.

At least 3.5 million coconut farmers, who have waited 40 years for justice to be served, will benefit from the passage of the law.

According to Soc Banzuela, Executive Director of KILUS Magniniyog, “justice for coconut farmers has been so delayed, thus the need for the immediate passage of SB 1233, without any amendments.”

To heighten calls for the passage of the bill, coconut farmers represented by KILUS Magniniyog will march again to senate on Monday.

It can be recalled that the House of Representatives passed the bill in September last year. Now, the farmers want the senate to do the same before the 17th Congress closes by the end of the year.