Bishops, businessmen ‘fully support’ coco farmers’ 71-day march

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MANILA, Nov. 5, 2014 — The Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (BBC) announced in a statement on Monday its “full support” of Kilusan para sa Ugnayan ng mga Samahang Magniniyog (Kilus Magniniyog)’s 71-day march
to pressure Malacañang to prioritize legislation for the P71 billion trust fund for coconut farmers.

Farmers demand urgent legislation for the creation of the coconut trust fund in a mass protest in 2012. (Photo: Roy Lagarde)

Signed by BBC national co-chairmen Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, D.D. and Meneleo J. Carlos Jr., the millions of small farmers across the country have not yet received any assistance regarding a P17 billion payment given two years ago by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) to the government, the statement said.

‘Not a single peso’

“Two years have lapsed, but the Aquino administration has been quiet on coco levy issue, and not a single peso has been drawn and spent to benefit the small coconut farmers,” the BBC pointed out.

Quoting Pope Francis, the conference described the coconut levy fund as a glass promising to quench the poor once it gets full, but nothing comes out for them even when it overflows.

In 1971, RA 6260, otherwise known as the Coconut Investment Act, was enacted for the creation of the Coconut Investment Company to run the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, which required a P0.55 levy for every sale of 100 kilos of copra.

Coco levy funds were “placed at the disposition of COCOFED,” as decided by the Supreme Court (SC) on Jan. 24, 2012.

Uphold coco farmers’ rights

Part of the funds “went directly or indirectly to various projects and/or was converted into different assets or investments, acquisition of the First United Bank (later renamed United Coconut Planters Bank or UCPB), the acquisition by UCPB of a large block of SMC shares,” the SC said.

The shares of stock from the coco levy fund (a total of 33, 133, 266 as of 1983) and all its dividends and increments are “owned by the government to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of coconut industry,” the SC declared.

Aquino’s silence on the coco levy fund prompted 71 Kilus Magniniyog coconut farmers to embark on a 7,150-kilometer march that kicked off in Davao City on Sept. 21 and is expected to end at the Malacañang Palace on Nov. 26.

The conference called on executive and legislative branches to “uphold the rights” of small coconut farmers and “promote their human development” and prioritize the creation of the coconut trust fund.

“Give farmers what rightly belongs to them,” the BBC told government. (Oliver Samson)

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