Student group hopeful of coco farmers’ victory

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QUEZON City, Dec. 2, 2014–A university-based student organization expresses hope that the outcome of the recent dialogue between coconut farmers and President Benigno S. Aquino III will indeed bring about the rushing of the release of the controversial multibillion-peso coconut levy fund under the same terms expressed in the farmers’ manifesto on the issue.

In a statement, Ateneans for Agrarian Reform Movement (AFARM) shares it welcomes “with all positivity” PNoy’s promises and commitment to use the P71-billion coco levy for the farmers’ direct benefit.

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

‘Cautiously optimistic’

“Taking everything into consideration, we remain cautiously optimistic. For as long as the President’s promises will translate into action, a step towards improving the lives of millions of small coconut farmers has been achieved. Let the arduous march of our coconut farmers not be in vain.” the group says.

“He has agreed that only annual interest from the coco levy funds should be used, so as to make the fund self-sustaining; that coconut-based farming social enterprises should be developed; and that he will certify as urgent a bill calling for the use of the coco levy funds,” it adds.

AFARM, however, raises concerns that using the coco levy funds could not push through without an “Entry of Judgment” issued by the Supreme Court (SC).

“Therefore, we call on the Supreme Court en Banc to act on the case decisively so that the plans during the Malacañang dialogue can be carried out immediately,” it states.

In line with this, AFARM urges PNoy to do what he can to speed up the legal process.

“Although we recognize our President’s commitment on the coco levy funds, we are also wary that the Executive Order which President
Aquino will craft and the bill that he will certify as urgent upon Supreme Court’s issuance of an entry of judgment may not be the same EO and bills that KILUS Magniniyog crafted,” it added.

According to the student organization, the farmers have waited “far too long only to keep waiting”.

It notes it makes little sense to have the farmers’ case denied an Entry of Judgment, given that Danding Cojuangco’s case was swiftly issued one.

Pnoy’s support

“The passage of an entirely different Executive Order and a bill may be at odds with the roadmap provided by the current Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund bills in the Senate and House of Representatives. Therefore, we urge our President, along with the other government agencies involved, to consult closely with our farmers to ensure that whichever EO and bill are passed, it will always be for the ultimate benefit of our farmers,” it says.

On Nov. 26, after a grueling three-month long, 1,750-kilometer trek from Davao to Manila, coconut farmers of the Kilus Magniniyog 71 (KM71) finally met with PNoy at Malacañang to discuss plans of action for the coco levy fund.

The President threw his support behind the coconut farmers, agreeing that the coco levy funds should be used immediately for their benefit.

He stressed, however, that doing so is impossible now until the SC releases an Entry of Judgment, authorizing use of the funds.

In the absence of an Entry of Judgment from the Supreme Court, PNoy has vowed to issue an Executive Order, allowing use of around three billion pesos worth of annual interest earnings from the coco levy fund.

He has also promised to certify a bill for the use of the recovered funds as urgent, but he did not clarify whether this bill is the same as the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund bills currently in Congress, or whether he will call for the drafting of an entirely different bill.

PNoy assured the farmers of the government’s desire to develop a coconut industry with sufficient avenues for the production of coco sugar, vinegar, among others. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCPNews)

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