“BENIGN NEGLECT”Â Â best describes what the Philippine government has inflicted upon Â the impoverished coconut farmers Â from the Marcos era Â to today.Â Â One reason for rural poverty, therefore, Â is that while 25% of agriculture volume is accounted for by coconut, its productivityÂ Â isÂ a failing grade.
Sixty percent of those who rely on coconut plantation for livelihood suffer poverty. Many of them are senile- with a productivity of only P 25,000 per hectare , guaranteeing destitution for the coconut farmer families. A tradition of despair and hopelessness.
Perhaps, even theÂ Â 33% poverty incidence in Bohol can be partly traceable to the preponderance of 400,000 coconut -dependent folks among the 1.2 million Boholanos, gifted with 10 million trees and 353 million coconuts per year- but for what?
Forty years after Marcos shackled the coco farmers to their chains,there is hope with the recent decision last December of the Supreme Court of a partial Â judgement that said P 71-B worth of San Miguel Corporation, UCPB and CIFF Coconut Mills funds- Â sequestered by the government for “being ill gotten” truly belongs to the coconut farmers alone.
In March 2015, President Noynoy Aquino , thereafter, issued Executive Order No 180 authorizing the exclusive use Â of the coco farmers of the P71-B Coconut Levy Fund under the care of a committee, headed by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), and Â to draw the road map and set up Â the IRR (implementing rules and regulations)..
The Senate, headed by senators Ralph Recto, Cynthia Villar and Bam Aquino, wants even Â a new law to be stronger than or Â strengthen the Executive Order- Â creating a Coconut Levy Fund to be administered by a created body. This time , the senators Â plead, the farmers should be able to use for their benefit -not just the interest but part of the principal (P71-B).
This so-called Coco Levy Fund germinated from Marcos’ Rep Act 6260 or the Coconut Investment Act of 1971 and the Coconut Consumer Stabilization Fund. Both conspired to first set aside 55 centavos for every 100 kilos of copra and then P15 to P1oo for every 100 kilograms of copra from the farmers sales – the resulting millions of which were used to buy SMC, UCPB and the oil mills, instead of giving them Â directly to the coconut farmers.
The long drawn battle against established families ended this year with the Executive Order.
The coconut farmers had long deserved this Â liberation.
Even long before that, a P5-M “coconut hub” has been set up in Bohol for the rehabilitation of Â coconut plants, diversification of the many commercial uses of the coconut “wonder” tree and linking with markets. Â After that ,
Bohol was in the short list of 7 provinces entitled to a P60-M coconut processing Â facility Â with capacity to process some 5,000 coconuts daily. Â The program started with a coir tufting in Leyte and in Capiz to manufacture virgin coconut oil, copra and coconut sugar.
Among the hundred uses of the coconut trees and their parts are production of coconut cheese, milk, sugar, water, ice cream and yogurt for the food side, coir , baskets, vinegar, scents Â and lumber for others. Â When will Bohol’s turn for the P60- M coconut processing be in place.?
We enjoin the Bohol officialdom to also Â follow up Â assiduously Â the possible participation of the Bohol coconut industry into Â the P71-B modernization and rehabilitation of the coconut industry. Propagation of high yield hybrid seeds, inter-cropping (coffee, vegetables etc) between coco trees, product development and marketing , technical assistance, training and capital funding are badly needed interventions here to radically transform the moribund coco industry.
The magic number has been P90,000 net income per coconut plantation Â hectare (through whatever means) to yank out the farmer from the bondage of poverty and ignorance by Â by lack of education.
Agriculture secretary for Food Sufficiency ,former senator Kiko Pangilinan is a frequent Â Bohol visitor and a believer in the good prospects of the Bohol economy. His wife megastar Sharon Cuneta, in fact, Â reportedly sank in P 50-M Â for landholdings in Panglao many years ago.
Seek an new audience with Kiko regarding the P 71-Billion fund to be managed under Trust and Trustees.
Under this arrangement, clearly the Coco Levy Fund will be one of those “off balance ” sheet budgets- which away from the sensitive Â Congressional monitoring radars- might just Â be filtered away Â to useless, self-serving projects.
We urge the Bohol officialdom to make serious representations with Kiko now and make good use of the funds for the good of the thousands of suffering coconut farmers .
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