Farmers vow hunger strike if gov’t won’t release coco levy funds

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 June) — Coconut farmers across the country vowed to stage a hunger strike in September if the government continues to deny their demands to utilize the coco levy funds.

Jerry Dela Cerna, chairperson of the Davao Gulf Coconut Farmers Alliance, said Monday in a press conference at SM City Davao the coconut farmers unanimously approved the decision during their national convention here last June 27-28.

Dela Cerna said the farmers will go on hunger strike until the government yields to their 10 demands.

He said the country has over three million coconut farmers based on incomplete data gathering in barangays.

Ten coco farmer-leaders have committed to walk from Gov. Generoso in Davao Oriental to Manila, drinking only coconut water and eat coconut meat, he added.

“Our demands are non-negotiable,” he said, adding they wanted to express their “serious concerns”, which they have struggled for almost 50 years without any actions from the government.

The Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines Inc. (CONFED) and the Bishops-Ulama-Pastors-Priests-Farmers-Lumads Conference organized the National Conference and Strategic Planning of Coco Farmer Leaders on the Utilization of the Coco Levy Funds here.

Some 60 coco farmers participated in the event that culminated seven regional consultations from April to June this year in the regions of Davao, Caraga, Eastern Visayas, Southern Tagalog, Central and Western Visayas, Region V, and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Dela Cerna cited that the coco levy fund has reached P58.8 billion, of which P4.4 billion was collected by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) as arbitral fees.

“Kanang kinawat nga gikawat pa gyud, ang tawag ana PCGG (Something stolen that was again stolen is called PCGG),” he said.

The Supreme Court decision in 2012, he continued, proved that what PCGG did was illegal. He noted that the coco levy funds are “owned by the government to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and the development of the coconut industry”.

Dela Cerna said the Presidential Task Force on the Coco Levy Funds is contrary to the Supreme Court decision as the coco farmers are the beneficial owners.

“The BangkoSentral ng Pilipinas should stop its claim for supervisory fee from the coco levy funds and return those that have been collected,” CONFED demanded in a statement issued after the national convention.

The coco farmers also demanded the establishment of the Coconut Farmers Development Foundation that will manage the coco levy funds and assets. Dela Cerna said the board of trustees shall consist of eight members from the government and seven from the coco farmers’ sector.

They also demanded the recapitalization of the United Coconut Planters Bank, creation of a farmers’ bank that will meet their financial needs, management of the coco levy fund by the Philippine Coconut Authority, and allocation of 10 percent of the total coconut levy for the Bangsamoro coco farmers.

In addition, they urged all government agencies involved in implementing the coco farmers’ programs to be honest and transparent.

The CONFED wanted to have a dialogue with Secretary Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan and Administrator Arancon about the coco levy funds and programs for coco farmers and the coconut industry.

The coco farmers also agreed to give P10 billion from the fund for replanting of coconut trees in typhoon-hit areas.

The PCA estimated the total damage caused by typhoon Yolanda to coconut areas at P17.6-billion.

The total national output of the coconut industry plummeted by 10 percent this year as 16.1 million coconut trees were destroyed by the typhoon. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)