Coconut farmers urge House to pass Coco levy bills

SMALL coconut farmers in Quezon affiliated with the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Kaisahang Pambansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Koprahan (Koprahan) today called the House of Representatives to immediately tackle and move for the passage of pending bills on the coconut levy funds.

“The passage of bills seeking to return the multi-billion coconut levy funds to its rightful owners should be Congress’ greatest priority today,” says KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella. “We hope that Speaker (Feliciano) Belmonte and committee on agriculture chair (Leandro) Mendoza will have the political will to start deliberations.”

Among the bills pending before the House are Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano’s House Bill 3443 which seeks the “Constitution of the Funds into Coconut Farmers’ Fund for the Rehabilitation and Development of the Coconut Industry” and Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada’s House Bill 5070 which seeks to finance programs and help coconut farmers increase their productivity, develop coconut-based enterprises and promote anti-poverty programs.

Last Friday, San Miguel Corporation “redeemed” the Series “1” Preferred Shares which represents the original 27 percent of the coco levy funds, now diluted to 24 percent, of SMC common shares ordered converted into preferred shares by the Supreme Court in 2009. The order also stipulated that SMC will have the exclusive option to redeem and purchase on the third year (2012) the 27 percent comprising 753.85 million shares at a fixed price of P75 per share instead of at the prevailing market price.

Marbella said “it is high-time for the House and its committee on agriculture to immediately tackle the coco levy bills.”

“There are multi-billion reasons for the House to swiftly tackle and approve the coco levy bills. But foremost of which is that the return of the coco levy funds is long overdue and our money is unsafe in the hands of Aquino’s government,” Marbella said.

KMP and KOPRAHAN is calling for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers and the enactment of Mariano’s House Bill 3443 or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration and Management Act.

“We demand the immediate distribution of the coconut levy funds to small coconut farmers,” says Marbella adding: “In Quezon province alone, 204,000 coconut farmer-families dependent over 388,664 hectares of coco lands will benefit from the immediate distribution of the coco levy funds.”

HB 3443 defines the “exclusivity of use of the coco levy funds” to ensure that it is used primarily to the best interests of small coconut farmers.

“The enactment of House Bill 3443 will ensure the direct and immediate return of the funds to small coconut farmers, the legitimate and rightful owners of the coco levy funds,” the groups said.

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