PASTORAL STATEMENT
ON THE COCO LEVIES AND THE COCONUT FARMERS

We view with alarm the grim condition of the small coconut farmers in our country today. They number about 20 million including their respective families, tenants, and farm workers.  Most of them live in depressing misery and abject poverty.  Some have died already because of it. For 18 years they have struggled to demand that the coco levies, which had been collected from the sale of copra and which are now valued in billions of pesos, must be utilized for their benefit as well as for the benefit of the coconut industry.  Theirs has been certainly a difficult and painful struggle.

Since 1998 until today Catholic and Protestant leaders and Muslim scholars or ulama and tribal leaders have joined their struggle by supporting their demand for justice and assisting other NGOs involved in the cause of the coconut farmers. To strengthen their auxiliary role they and the farmers organized themselves into a conference which goes by the name BUPPFALUC, an acronym for Bishops, Ulama, Priests, Pastors, Farmers, Lumad Conference.

After 18 years the struggle of the coconut farmers seemed to have come to an end, or the beginning of the end, when the Supreme Court categorically declared in a partial summary judgment that the coco levies are public in character. Subsequent decisions by the Sandiganbayan confirmed that the assets of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIP) Oil Mills and the 27% CIIF block of shares in San Miguel Corporation had been purchased with the use of the coco levy funds. In other words, these assets amounting to billions of pesos were ordered re-conveyed to government as HOLDER IN TRUST FOR THE COCONUT FARMERS.

In view of these developments and to put life to those court pronouncements as well as to fast track the final resolution of the coco levy issue, we respectfully suggest that Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo offer an opportunity for the group representing the major coconut farmer organizations and its support NGOs to present to her personally some realistic proposals on the administration, management, and utilizations of the coco levy funds. We are sure that this humble gesture on the part of the Chief Executive will signal the eventual end of this long litigated and hotly debated issue. We hope too that this presidential act will also prevent recourse to bloody violence which has rumored to have been fueled and provoked by the impatience and hopelessness on the part of some coconut farmers.

To prepare for a fruitful meeting with the President we also suggest that the said coconut farmers group enter into a respectful and friendly dialogue with the combined heads of UCPB, CIIF, COCOLIFE and other institutions established with coco levy funds.  The same dialogue is also recommended with the PCGG Commissioners.  We believe that in order to clarify issues and effectively resolve differences there is no other human and humane way except through a peaceful, respectful, and friendly dialogue however long and tedious this may be.

We believe that such dialogue to be effective and fruitful must be anchored on a moral framework rather than on a legal one.  This is the framework that promotes peace and reconciliation through social healing. And social healing cannot happen without sincere repentance and forgiveness.  This is also the situation that facilitates the answering of the legal demands of justice.  This is the teaching and practice beautifully exemplified by the late Pope John Paul II.  It is for this reason that we appeal to all coconut farmers organizations and the support NGO’s nationwide to leave behind their personal and ideological differences and unite as one solid group with one common stand.  Within this moral framework it is not difficult to see the possibility of an early and acceptable out-of-court settlement.

This moral framework is the reason why our religious leaders – Catholics, Protestants, Ulama and Lumads – are involved in this very important issue.  It is the same reason why we are issuing this Pastoral Statement.  We consider the resolution of the issue a moral imperative.  It is in this context that we can understand and take to heart the wise and fatherly advise of our beloved Holy Father, the late Pope John Paul II who in January 1, 2003 celebration of the World Day of Peace said: “There is no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.”

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+FERNANDO R. CAPALLA
Archbishop of Davao
CBCP President

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