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Cardinal Quevedo backs coco farmers’ Davao to Manila walk

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.

Farmers demand the government's quick action on the Coconut Levy Fund in a rally in 2012. (Photo: CBCP News).

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)

‘Poverty of love greater than material poverty’ – priest

NAGA City, September 23, 2014 – More than a lack of financial resources, a priest says a greater poverty exists – that of the “poverty of love and intimacy”.

Invited by the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral to celebrate the third afternoon novena mass in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Virac Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace Vice-Executive Fr. Rolvin Romero stressed that money is not the “entire solution to poverty.”

The image of Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, is transferred from the Basilica Minore de Peñafrancia to the Parish and Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia on September 12, 2014 in a solemn dawn procession participated in by the Caceres lay faithful, seminarians from the Holy Rosary Preparatory Seminary and the members of the clergy. (Photo: Natalie Hazel Quimlat)

Romero, who celebrated holy mass on September 16, Tuesday, encouraged the faithful to ask themselves the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Caceres Social Action Foundation, Inc. Director Fr. Jeffry John Paulo Briones IV also echoed this sentiment of deep compassion for others during a novena mass he celebrated in honor of ‘Ina’, by telling the faithful that man is called to be “leaven in his community.”

In the same way leaven enhances the quality of bread, the Christian is meant to be a positive influence on those around him, Briones explained.

“Be a leavening influence in the world around you. You are the salt of the Earth, the light of the world,” he stressed.

Briones challenged the faithful to contemplate on what kind of “leaven” they are to others.”

Briones and Romero were two of the seven Social Action Directors of the seven dioceses in the Bicol Region invited to celebrate the afternoon novena mass at the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, the center of all religious activities during the Peñafrancia festivities.

The Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia today, September 23, is expected to draw thousands of Marian devotees from all over the country. (Natalie Hazel Quimlat)