Group doubts Aquino’s promise to give back coco levy fund

THE National Government may have assured coconut farmers that it is on their side, but a farmers’ group leader has doubted President Benigno Aquino III will really keep his word.

In a recent meeting with some of the coconut farmers, Aquino told them he supports their endeavor to take back the coco levy fund, with an estimated total worth of P146 billion in cash and assets.

But Richard Colao, regional secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Northern Mindanao (KMP-NMR), said the coconut farmers must not believe the President’s word right away and instead see to it that the money due them will be returned to them.

“Kinahanglan mabalik gyud sa mga mag-uuma sa lubi ang maong pundo kay alang man kini kanila (The funds should be returned to the coconut farmers since this is for them),” Colao said in a phone interview with Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro on Friday.

“Angay nga ibalik ang maong pundo nga walay kundisyon ug walay pagpili (It should be returned without condition, and it must not be selective of who will receive it),” he added.

He said the coconut farmers must see to it that they are getting the whole fund and not just a small amount.

What the government must do, he added, is to fast-track the approval of House Bill (HB) 1327, or the Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund authored by Anakpawis partylist Representative Fernando Hicap, into a law.

HB 1327 states that the coco levy funds must be used solely for the benefit of the genuine small-time coconut farmers.

According to the bill, the funds “shall be apportioned to all coconut farmers without discrimination in the form of cash and other social benefits including but not limited to pension benefits; medical and hospitalization benefits; maternity benefits; and educational assistance including scholarships.”

HB 1327 also seeks “to finance socio-economic projects initiated by small coconut farmers and their organizations and/or cooperatives that shall primarily focus on: livelihood programs and projects meant to provide additional incomes to small coconut farmers; small and medium-scale coconut enterprises, marketing and trading mechanisms, inventions and innovations of machineries and equipment for the development of high-quality coconut and improvement of local coconut production; and, programs that would provide loan facilities for small coconut farmers.”

In a news article, Aquino promised the group Kilus Magniniyog he would consider the group’s proposal for an executive order that would establish a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund.

The best course of action, Aquino told the Kilus Magniniyog, is to craft a law that would “ensure that the next generation would enjoy the benefits brought by the coco levy fund and we would be spared from any legal obstacle in the future.”

But Colao said that since HB 1327 had already been filed, Aquino must see to it that will become a law right away so the coconut farmers can reap the benefits of the coco levy fund.

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