Akbayan Partylist has expressed extreme disappointment over the executive orders issued by President Aquino, saying they fail to protect the interests of the coco farmers on matters relating to the use of the P71 billion coco levy fund and assets.
“We are disappointed that the signed EOs failed to provide adequate benefits and uplift the lives of the coco farmers who are among the country’s poorest,” Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez said.
“Even as the EOs reiterated that the coco levy assets are ‘solely and exclusively for the benefit of all the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry’, the orders failed on two levels to the prejudice of the farmers,” the Akbayan solon added.
Akbayan, in particular, said that the rules guiding the sale and privatization of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) is “unlawful as it clearly violates the express provision of Presidential Decree No. 755 on the intention behind the UCPB acquisition.”
By virtue of PD 755, the UCPB was acquired to provide frequently cash-strapped and capital-short farmers with the necessary credit support at farmer-friendly interest rates.
All collections under the coco levy fund and 50% of the collections under the Coconut Industry Development Fund were deposited to the UCPB, interest-free, and formed the shares of the coconut farmers in the bank.
“This means no portion shall be given to the government or to investors in the disposition of the UCPB shares. This is in observance of the nature and character of the coco levy fund and assets as being ‘owned by the government in trust for the coconut farmers’,” Gutierrez explained.
Akbayan also reiterated the rights of the coco farmers as UCPB shareholders and primary stakeholders following the decision of the government to privatize UCPB.
“As shareholders and primary stakeholders, the farmers have every right to participate and be consulted in any decision undertaken by the government that affects the administration and management of the UCPB to ensure that their rights and welfare are protected,” Gutierrez reiterated.
“Any attempt to privatize UCPB shares without proper consultation or approval from the coco farmers not only violates PD 755 , but also takes away the coconut farmers’ right of ownership to the shares,” he added.
Not in accord
Akbayan also said they were surprised at the seeming change in direction with the President’s commitment to stand on the side of the farmers following their dialogue in Malacanang on November 2014.
“We are seriously concerned that the EOs issued by the President were not in accord with his earlier commitment to support the farmers in establishing a coco trust fund and the procedures that would govern its usage. While there were consultations in the drafting of the EOs, the results were far from what the farmers desired and expected,” Gutierrez said.
Signed on March 18, 2015 by President Aquino, EO 179 provides for the administrative guidelines in the inventory and privatization of coco levy assets while EO 180 offers guidelines for the use of the recovered P71 billion from San Miguel Corporation.
Certify as urgent
To rectify the flaws of the EOs, Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez will join other lawmakers at the House of Representatives this week to file the “Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Act”.
The proposed legislation seeks to ensure that the coco levy fund and assets will be used solely for the lifting of the coconut farmers from poverty and destitution.
“We are urging the President to certify the measure as urgent as soon as it is filed in order to ensure the swift and immediate passage of the law,” Gutierrez said.
“[Further] we are seeking the strong support of Congress to ensure that the Coco Levy will finally turn into reality a better lives for the coco farmers and their families,” Gutierrez concluded.###