MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III is supportive of coconut farmers’ proposal to exclude funds from the Coco Levy Fund from the annual budget of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
In his speech during Wednesday’s dialogue with members of the Kilusan para sa Ugnayan ng mga Samahang Magniniyog (Kilos Magniniyog) in Malacanang, the President also said that the farmers’ proposal to tap only the interest income of the Fund for programs focused on the sector is a good one so that future beneficiaries would have the financial means to support their plight.
He said these proposals were reported to him by Agriculture Secretary Francis Pangilinan, who continues to meet with the sector to address their issues while awaiting the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision on the Coco Levy Fund.
The SC has decided on the Coco Levy Fund in November 2012 but has yet to issue an entry of judgement .
Based on the decision, the SC said 24 percent of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is owned by coconut farmers because these shares were bought using coco levy, or taxes collected from coconut farmers during the Marcos government.
Some Php 70 billion of the coco levy fund is now with the National Treasury.
Aquino said they continue to formulate programs for the sector, with participation by coconut farmers’ group, to determine how the Fund would be used to lift the lives of the farmers once an entry of judgment has been issued.
“Ang nakikita ko nga pong pinakamagandang gawin ay ang bumuo ng isang batas: Sisiguruhin nitong tatawid sa mga susunod na salinlahi ang benepisyong dala ng Coco Levy Fund, at maiiwas din tayo sa anumang aberyang legal sa hinaharap,” he said.
The President stressed that sector participation is a major factor in drafting a bill for this purpose.
”Kayo ang pangunahing kukonsultahin sa mga probisyong lalamanin ng batas; kapag nagkasundo na po tayo sa mga probisyong ito, ihahain natin ang panukalang batas sa Kongreso, at isasama natin ito sa mga panukalang certified as urgent, upang maasikaso at maipasa nila ito sa lalong madaling panahon,” he said.
He is optimistic that efforts in formulating the draft bill will be easy since there is active partnership between the government and the farmers, which he said should be pursued further.
He said the government’s commitment to support the sector has been proven by the measures put in place while awaiting the High Court’s decision.
He said the Aquino administration has increased PCA’s budget to Php 5.1 billion in 2013 from Php 593 million in 2010 to be able to help coconut farmers who became victims of Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 and the coconut fest infestation called “Cocolisap.”
The additional budget also enabled the government to help the sector increase their revenues through fertilization program and mixed-cropping, he said.
“Malinaw naman po siguro: Buong-buo ang aming suporta, at nasa panig ninyo kami. Magkatugma ang mga hangarin ninyo, at ang hangarin ng gobyerno para sa inyo. Ang totoo nga po, higit pa ang gusto namin: Mas malawak na benepisyo, at mas pangmatagalang mga struktura upang masigurong mabibigyang-kalinga ang inyong sektor. Magpatuloy nga po sana ang inyong tiwala, at lalo pa sana itong tumibay,” he added.
The dialogue was set after members of the Kilos Magniniyog held a protest rally on Mendiola last Monday. The rally was held by coconut farmers who walked from Davao City starting last September 21.
The farmers urged the government to put up a Php 71-billion trust fund for coconut farmers.