MANILA, Philippines – In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, it is expected that President Rodrigo Duterte will again mention with fervor his administration’s continuing war against drugs.
But will the chief executive also discuss with passion the country’s decades-old war against poverty, specifically his campaign promise of returning to small coconut farmers billions of pesos worth of coco levy money that was stolen from them during the Marcos regime?
This is what Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party hopes Duterte will do as the lawmaker noted that the President’s promise of returning the fund within his first 100 days in office remains unfulfilled.
“Nitong nakaraang kampanya, nangako si dating Mayor at ngayo’y Pangulong Duterte sa harap ng mga magniniyog sa agarang pagpasa ng panukalang batas na ito. Isang taon na ang lumipas, ngunit hindi pa rin ito naipapatupad gaya ng inaasahan,” Pangilinan said in a statement issued Thursday.
[In the previous campaign, former mayor and now President Duterte promised in front of coconut farmers that this bill would be passed immediately. On year has passed but this remains unimplemented.]
The senator was referring to the Supreme Court’s condition for Congress to pass an enabling law so that the P71-billion coco levy fund recovered from San Miguel Corp. (SMC) (now amounting to P75 billion), which the high tribunal awarded to the farmers through a 2014 ruling, can be utilized for their welfare.
In March 2016, Duterte and then vice presidential running mate Alan Peter Cayetano went to Quezon province and promised coconut farmers that he would return the fund to them if God wills that he become the president.
“’Pag ako’y nahalal na presidente, ipagpala ng Diyos, ibabalik ko sa inyo ‘yong coco levy [If I become president, God willing, I will return to you the coco levy],” then presidential candidate Duterte told the farmers.
Duterte and Cayetano then signed the manifesto, Panata para sa Maliliit na Magniniyog in front of the farmers wherein they promised three things:
(1)In the first 100 days of governing, they will make sure coconut farmers benefit from the coco levy fund.
(2)Aside from the coco levy fund, they will make sure there will be more funds for infrastructure, research, and marketing to strengthen the coconut industry.
(3)They will support efforts to recover the remaining funds.
The P71-billion fund, equivalent to 24 percent of SMC shares, is not the total amount of coco levy collected by the Marcos administration from small coconut farmers from 1971 to 1983.
The amount is just the portion of the coco levy decided by the high court in favor of government for the benefit of coconut farmers. There is still an estimated P130 billion worth of coco levy funds under litigation and are still in the firms controlled by SMC chair Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., among late President Ferdinand Marcos’ most trusted lieutenants, who was appointed director of the Philippine Coconut Authority.
On Thursday, Pangilinan said he was hoping that during his SONA, Duterte would mention about his campaign promise and commit to push for the passage of the bill creating a coco levy trust fund for coconut farmers by telling his allies in Congress to prioritize the enactment of the proposed law.
“Umaasa tayo na sa nalalapit na State of the Nation Address ni Pangulong Duterte, ay itutulak niya ang mabilis na pagpasa ng panukalang batas para sa Coco Levy Trust Fund at hihikayatin ang mga kasamahan natin sa Kongreso na gawin itong prayoridad,” the senator said.
Pangilinan’s Senate Bill 1233 or the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act remains pending on second reading at the Upper Chamber. Its version at the House of Representatives remains stuck at the Committee on Rules.
“Apatnapu’t anim na taon na mula nang ipataw sa ating magniniyog ang coconut levy. Marami-raming Pasko, Bagong Taon at birthday na tayong napapaligaya ng buko salad mula sa magniniyog. Huwag na sana nating paabutin hanggang limampung taon pa ang kanilang paghihintay,” the senator said.
[It has been 46 years since the coco levy was imposed on our coconut farmers. Many of our Christmases, New Years, and birthdays have been made happy by the buko salad from our coconut farmers. I hope that we will not let them wait for 50 years.]
“Sana matapos na ang deka-dekadang nang kalbaryo ng ating mga magniniyog. Pagkakataon na nila upang makabangon mula sa kahirapan. Oras na para magtrabaho. Ipasa na ang Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill,” added Pangilinan.
[I hope that the coconut farmers’ decades of suffering will end. It’s their chance to rise from poverty. It’s time to work. Let’s pass the Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill.]
WATCH NEW5’S VIDEO REPORT ON DUTERTE AND CAYETANO’S MARCH 2016 VISIT TO QUEZON AND THEIR PROMISE TO COCO FARMERS: