DAVAO City, September 23, 2014— Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo gives two thumbs up to some 71 coconut farmers representing ten national farmer federations who started their 71-day long march from Davao City to Malacañang on Sunday, September 21, urging President Benigno S. Aquino III (Pnoy) to prioritize tthe passage of the P71-billion Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund.
“I fully support the long march for the coconut levy campaign of the Kilos Magniniyog,” added the prelate who expressed regrets he could not bless the farmers from the newly-formed alliance KILUS Magniniyog personally.
Mary as companion
In the said statement, Quevedo called on God’s protection over the farmers, who started their journey on the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law and prayed for their “strength and good health.”
“May our Blessed Mother be their companion on the long journey. With best wishes in the Lord,” he added.
Kicking off in Davao City, the farmers, who hope president Aquino will issue an executive order certifying the creation of the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund as “urgent”, are expected to reach the Palace two months later, on November 26, a day before the closing ceremony of the “International Year of Family Farming” in Manila.
As a public education and consultation event, the march aims to garner support in order to speed up the passage of a proposed Executive Order and Bill establishing a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund which will ensure that the initial P71 billion recovered cocolevy fund will go to the farmers.
Collected from millions of coconut farmers through various decrees by the Marcos dictatorship over a ten year period (1972-82), and invested in San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and other “crony” businesses, the nine billion-peso “Cocolevy Fund” grew to over 150 billion pesos.
‘Poorest of the poor’
In 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) declared the 71 billion pesos in SMC shares deposited in the National Treasury and the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) as “public funds”.
Despite the clamor of 3.5 million coconut farmers, whom the National Anti Poverty Commission considers the “poorest among the poor” in rural areas, not a single peso has been used from the fund.
While SMC Chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. had already received the P56 billion comprising 20% of SMC shares awarded to him by SC, the coconut farmers have yet to enjoy the benefits of the recovered amount given an absence of a court-sanctioned “Entry of Judgment”.
The “march for historic justice” by the 71 coconut farmers may be the longest march to date in Philippine history.
Various organizations of coconut farmers and their support groups, including many from the labor, urban poor, and religious sectors, as well as the academe and NGOs, are expected to join the last leg of the march to Malacañang.
In 2007, 55 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon had earlier made the long march from Mindanao to Manila, covering a distance of roughly 1,750 kilometers.
After talking with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Sumilao farmers were able to get their land back within six months. (Raymond A. Sebastián)