Palace open for dialogue with coco levy protesters
MANILA, Philippines—A Malacañang official said Tuesday that it is willing to talk with 71 coconut farmers from Coco Farmers Movement who will arrive in Manila on Wednesday from Mindanao after staging a 1,772 kilometer protest march to demand the distribution of P71-billion coco levy funds.
In a press briefing, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that the Aquino administration prioritizes accountability in the usage of public funds.
“Ang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan at ‘yung makatwirang pananagot ng pamahalaan sa mga pondo ng bayan katulad ng coconut levy ang ating batayang prinsipyo diyan. Kinikilala natin ang kanilang karapatang magpahayag sa maayos at tahimik na paraan ng kanilang mga saloobin. Handang makipag-usap ang mga kinauukulan mula sa pamahalaan upang unawain ang kanilang kahilingan at tumugon ito sa isang paraang tinutukoy ‘yung kanilang mga concerns,” Coloma said.
(The welfare of our citizens and the accountability of the government to public funds like coco levy are our basic principles in the said issue [farmers’ protest]. We recognize their right to express their demands in a civil manner. We are willing to talk to them to understand their demands and to address their concerns. )
In a 2012 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that 24 percent or P71 billion coco levy funds are public funds and should be awarded to more than 3.5 million coconut farmers.
Meanwhile, youth groups from Ateneo have expressed their support for the coconut farmers’ protest.
In a statement, social justice task force Ateneans for Agrarian Reform Movement (AFARM), and alliance of Jesuit tertiary school councils Buklod Atenista, said that a perpetual coconut trust fund will benefit 3.5 million coconut farmers.
The groups urged President Benigno Aquino III and Congress to mark the Coconut Trust Fund Bill filed by Senator Cynthia Villar as urgent.
The groups also asserted that the coconut trust fund will “back programs that will develop the coconut industry, increase the capacities of farmers in producing coconut products other than copra, and encourage farmers’ participation through village-level cooperatives.”
“The establishment of the Perpetual Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund will be an act of historic justice—of returning what the rich have mercilessly stolen from the poor. With sufficient safeguards, the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund will protect the recovered 71 billion pesos from dissipation,” they asserted.
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