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Coconut farmers from Mindanao reach Lucena

…54th day of protest march
KM 71 marchers joined by Quezon coconut farmers on their march to Lucena City.  DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

KM 71 marchers joined by Quezon coconut farmers on their march to Lucena City.
DELFIN T. MALLARI JR./INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

LUCENA CITY—For the 71 coconut farmers who have been marching from Davao since Sept. 21 on their way to Malacañang, the welcome hugs from fellow peasants along the route were better appreciated than the politicians’ handshakes.

“The warm hug from fellow coconut farmer is different from the politician’s handshake. I can feel the genuine concern and solidarity of my fellow farmer because we’re in the same sorry plight,” George Malbon Jr., a coconut farmer from Tawi-Tawi, said in Filipino in an interview on Friday afternoon.

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Malbon was one of 71 members of the “Kilus Magniniyog” movement who arrived here at 3 p.m. Friday, the 54th day of their 71-day protest march from Davao City to Malacañang.

The KM 71 marchers were welcomed in Barangay (village) Talipan in Pagbilao town by more than 1,500 farmers from Coalition of Coconut Farmers (Coco Farm) in Quezon and neighboring provinces.

The local farmers joined the

KM 71 marchers for the remaining six-kilometer march to the Punzalan gymnasium in this city, where a welcome ceremony was held.

The marchers were met at the gymnasium by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Agrarian Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, former Philippine Coconut Authority chair Oscar Santos and Lucena Mayor Roderick Alcala.

Malbon clarified they also appreciated the welcome and declarations of support from the Cabinet officials and from local politicians, especially the lawmakers along the route of the march.

“But it would be better if they can concretize their gesture by supporting our calls to President Aquino for the return of the coconut levy through legislation or executive order,” he said.

The protest marchers left Davao on Sept. 21 to walk 1,772 kilometers, at an average of

30 km a day. The marchers were down to about 128 km away from their target destination.

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The tired and rain-soaked marchers immediately grabbed the newly opened young coconuts from the hands of welcoming local peasants and drank the cold juice straight from the nut.

“What a sweet taste. I missed it. This is our first buko juice since we started the march,” Richard Galansa, a farmer from Bugsok, Palawan, told a local farmer who gave him the young coconut.

According to Galansa, bottled water, juice and occasional soft drinks were among the regular refreshments offered to them by their welcoming parties.

The marchers were expected to reach Metro Manila by the last week of November.

The marchers are asking President Aquino to issue an executive order creating a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund (CFTF) from the recovered coconut levy fund and certify as urgent the initiative bill version that they filed in both Houses of Congress.

The estimated P71-billion coco levy fund now in the hands of the government is expected to benefit more than 20 million coconut farmers and their families from more than 21,000 coconut-producing villages across the country.

Jansepth Geronimo, Coco Farm spokesperson, said the executive order which the farmers have long been asking for would serve as the “most meaningful Christmas gift” that the leader of the country can give to his long suffering bosses.

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