Coconut farmers will get a much-needed assistance to improve their earnings with a project to be implemented by the National Anti Poverty Commission (NAPC) that will use some P49 million left idle by the previous leadership of the commission.
NAPC lead convenor Noel Felongco announced in a news conference on Tuesday that the body has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation to allow it to utilize the P49 million donation from the latter that was left untouched by the previous NAPC administration.
"Beginning today, we can use the P49 million for the prototype project for the coconut farmers and fisherfolk," Felongco said.
Felongco explained the project will put up villages in coconut farming communities that will serve as a one-stop shop for the processing of coconut into various products and marketing them.
"We will be putting up village-based integrated coconut production plants. They're village-based, so that it will cushion coconut farmers from the prices of copra. The aim is to be able to produce different products such as coconut water, sugar, flour," he said.
The NAPC head said they would continue to coordinate with other government agencies for the implementation of poverty-reduction actiivities.
Coconut farmers have been fighting for the coco levy funds for nearly four decades.
The coco levy are taxes imposed on coconut farmers from 1971 to 1983 during the Marcos regime, but which never trickled back on them.
The tax collections were used by Marcos and his cronies to set up businesses, which never benefitted the farmers. The collections plus interests earned through the years have reportedly reached P9.7 billion.
In the 17th Congress, lawmakers passed a bill for the utilization of the coco levy fund, but this was vetoed by President Rodrifo Duterte.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, one of the staunchest advocates of the farmers' welfare, refiled the bill this 18th Congress under Senate Bill 31 or “The Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act," which seeks to establish a trust fund for coconut farmers.
“Karamihan sa mga pinatawan ng coco levy noon kung hindi uugod-ugod na ay sumakabilambuhay na at hindi man lang nasilayan ang hustisiya na kanilang ipinaglalaban na deka-dekada na ang ikinatagal,” Pangilinan said in a statement.
“The help expected from the government has been long overdue but we can still make right the wrong in our history. The coconut levy bill nut is a giant nut we should be able to crack for our farmers,” Pangilinan added. —Margaret Claire Layug/LDF, GMA News