For 27 years the country’s three million or so coconut farmers and advocates have fought to get the billions of pesos of the Coconut Levy Fund for the use of, for and by the coconut industry sector to develop highest value-added products and grow incomes in the sector. It has not succeeded.
the Philippine coconut industry sector may be losing the levy funds to the dirty hands of the Yellow President’s corrupt cronies. On May 20 this year, in the midst of the distraction of the election ado and the Taiwan-RP imbroglio spilled over, news of BS Aquino and his budget Rasputin Butch Abad’s memorandum to divert the remaining “P120-billion coco levy fund” to “farm-to-market roads” — code name for pork barrel feasting.
For a year now the country’s coconut industry sector, farmers and advocates, have been monitoring the BS Aquino’s underlings’ maneuverings. He let the hyenas lose with the Finance and the Akbayan (Rocamora-NGO) mafias competing to get their dirty hands on the remaining billions. The incumbent Department of Agriculture secretary was supposed to be making the pitch for the genuine coconut farmers and advocates to dedicate the remaining billions to a permanent fund for the continuing development and advancement of the coconut industry with grassroots multi-product, mini processing centers that can service 300 hectares clusters of coconut farmlands where farmers can bring their coconuts for processing to various high value products.
Eighty five percent to 95 percent of Philippine coconuts are processed only into copra, throwing or burning away four billion liters of coconut water, husks and shells, billions of liters of coconut milk and virgin coconut oil, and many other potential byproducts. Copra exported to other countries are pressed and processed there and we lose the massive downstream incomes. The coconut producing areas do not need more farm-to-market roads, they need processing facilities. The farm-to-market roads fixation assumes that the best approach to bring goods to big, industrial centers; this is a great big mistake. For example, today coconuts from Mindanao are still transported to Laguna, in Luzon, where most of the giant copra and coconut processing plants are concentrating incomes in a few companies while the province remain impoverished.
The KMU and Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin said, “We don’t want so-called road projects that only benefit corrupt local officials…. The dire poverty (in coconut areas) exists mainly due to high land rent, the imposition of resicada, low prices of copra and other semi-feudal forms of exploitation and not due to lack of access roads,…” Other coconut farmer and advocacy groups are gearing to take action too, such as the Philippine Coconut Society (PCS) , COIR, and even members of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) leadership who will be joining the street actions. Taking the struggle one level higher, the PCS presents crystal clear grassroots based development plan for the coconut industry sector, called Freshco, versus copra, processing with the multi-product processing centers for every 300-hectare coconut lands cluster — a national coconut industry development road map.
For the coconut farmers, the just concluded general election is a totally irrelevancy, none of the candidates and winners talk about these substantive issues. The farmers’ and the country’s problem is how we can keep BS Aquino’s, Abad’s and the politico’s hands off the coconut levy. When the new and young pols are inaugurated in June, the vast majority of them will start to take action protecting their family’s legislative or local government fiefdom and the share of the pork barrel. Some are making a big show of how they will still be learning the ropes and how they will respectfully, “magalang,” learn from the elders in the institutions. I don’t know how many Filipinos are still taken in by such shallow posturings but I do know that many even among the masa are already tired of the comedia.
Despite my distaste for the concluded political exercise, I do find some gems in it. One example is Johnny Chang of Quezon City who garnered 10 percent of QC’s votes representing the thinking portion of that population. Chang educated the public on the taxation and pork barrel issues of Quezon City. Chang got just over 3,000 votes in 2010; now it’s 51,000. Next time around he may be mayor of Quezon City already. Of course, Estrada in Manila was an absolute necessity; Lim was already a cancer that needed to be excised. Manila will see its old glory back. To the Kapatiran, the party-lists Magdalo and Append, congratulations. To Sanlakas, Kaakbay, maybe a miracle can still put one of yours in. In the meantime, we continue preparing for the revolution.
(Tune to 1098AM, 5 to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; Destiny Cable, Channel 8, Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.; visit: http//www.newkatipunero.blogspot.com)
1) August 23, 2010 Hong Kong Tourist Association Luneta massacre resulting in death for eight Hong Kong tourists; 2) April 8, 2012 Panatag Shoal incident when “grey ship” (naval) BRP Gregorio Del Pilar was sent to confront and arrest eight Chinese fishing boats triggering Chinese marine surveillance ships to respond; 3) the May 9 Balintang incident resulting in the death of one Chinese fisherman. Each of these incidents resulted from the absence of executive (i.e. presidential) response and leadership from the Chief Executive of the Philippines and blatant politicization of the investigations and perceived coddling of guilty parties in the process. Most unfortunate and to some, deeply suspicious in these series of grievous errors of the president is the victimization of Chinese civilians.
Last week this space wrote “Taiwan’s rage, RP’s failings” trying to discern the just approach to the incident at the Balintang Islands. We recounted the facts of the case as information trickled in from Taiwan’s authorities and media and from the Philippine authorities. Aside from the corpus delicti, the Taiwan side was very quick to report details on the ballistics forensics showing the trajectory of the bullets from the Philippine Coast Guard fire hitting mainly astern, portside or rear left side, hardly indicating a boat attempting to ram the PCG head on as the initial impression one gets from reading the PCG report. The PCG had claims but absolutely no physical evidence to support any of its claims, such as pictures of a damage patrol boat and the like.
After the Balitang incident, May 10, Taiwan media had the images all over the world of the dead fisherman, the grieving family and the Taiwan protests. Taiwan authorities were already demanding an apology, compensation and investigation from Philippine authorities. The MECO (Manila Economic and Cultural Office) representative visited the grieving family, a quick action that must be commended. Deputy spokesman Abigail Valte had a late evening press conference which didn’t impact at all. Malacañang waited a week for a high level, formal response through presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda; but by then the damage to RP-Taiwan relations already looked irreversible. Through the week I waited for any proof from the PCG that may show that the Taiwanese, as some allege, are overreacting.
The first indication that the PCG had a credible piece of evidence to its claim that the shooting incident was an act of self-defense against an attacking fishing vessel was the May 17 news report that the PCG had a video tape of the whole incident that would prove its case. If it had this it would have erased doubts about the defensive nature of its action. Without a self-defense motive the PCG was clearly in troubled waters as the international laws covering the situation the Taiwanese fishing vessels and the PCG ship do not permit the use of lethal force, especially in an area where sovereignty is subject to question such as an overlapping exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Even in an EEZ when clearly exclusivity is established, the use of lethal force is not countenanced by international laws.
At this writing 11 days after the incident the alleged video still has not been released raised suspicion that the footage may not really be as helpful as the PCG claims. Malacañang should have called in all this evidence at the earliest opportunity to formulate its response to the Taiwanese claims, but the “noynoying” was also in operation. Today, we are still awaiting the video’s release to the public, but in the meantime the earliest indication of the culpability of the PCG by Philippine media comes from a leak form an unnamed PCG official privy to the internal investigation that the “Coast Guard may have violated rules of engagement” which questions the apparent haste with which lethal force was used that may violate even the PCG’s Rules of Engagement.
Reports say the video confirm the 1-hour chase the Taiwanese claim the PCG conducted, firing over 50 rounds against the unarmed Taiwanese fishing vessel, indicating hostile intent on the PCG’s side. In such situations the PCG is expected only to report the incident and file the corresponding case through appropriate channels. One aspect to look for in this is whether the Taiwanese fishing vessels were actually caught fishing, because if they were not they could claim to be just making passage through the Luzon Straits. That’s covered by the 1991 Executive Order No. 473 of President Corazon Aquino providing safe passage to Taiwanese vessels provided they do not fish and have their fishing gears stowed in their holds.
The Taiwanese are not the only victims in this sordid mess. One hundred million Filipinos are also victims, their country suffering further damage to its reputation and many sectors such as Taiwan-bound OFWs and our local tourism hit with crippling boycotts. All victims of the lackadaisical and incompetent BS Aquino III government whose highest officials, after striking out the third time should be offering resignations posthaste if it had any shame at all.
(Tune to 1098AM, 5 to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; Destiny Cable, Channel 8, Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.; visit: http//www.newkatipunero.blogspot.com)
Little noticed over the din of the last elections is a mounting tsunami of rage and potential for economic-political retaliation from the Taiwan government and people over the killing by elements of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of 65-year old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-Cheng of the fishing vessel Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28.
At first blush the PCG contention seems to be an open-and-shut case as Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena claimed the Taiwanese fishing vessels were “poaching” in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 43 nautical miles east of the Balintang Islands which is just about 40 kilometers North-North East of the Babuyan Islands. The PCG defended its use of high caliber weaponry claiming the Taiwanese fishing vessel tried to ram the PCG patrol vessel.
Protests exploded in Taiwan and the grief stricken family of the dead Taiwanese fisherman dominated Taiwan news media. Taiwanese fishermen threw eggs at the Philippines’ representative office in Taipei and burned images of the Philippines’ flag. Protesters included members of the New Taipei-based National Fishermen’s Association, as well as from other fishermen’s associations in Hsinchu and Yilan. Politics entered the picture as the opposition DPP (Democratic People’s Party) criticized as weak the actions of ruling Kuomintang (KMT) president Ma Ying-jeou who has threatened to cut the employment of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) (87,000 there) unless the Philippine government meets a deadline (Tuesday, midnight) for an investigation, official apology (which the Philippine government is hesitant to make) and compensation for the bereaved family.
The mainland China English news channel CCTV 9 also covered closely the Taiwan fisherman’s tragic death. I first understood the Taiwanese perspective on the controversy from CCTV 9 in an interview with a Taiwanese lady politician and two foreign affairs analysts. Taiwan’s view is not covered much in the Philippine media. After hearing their view the PCG’s defense of its action may not be as tenable as it first looked. The Philippine’s claim of the fishing vessel being in Philippine EEZ is only half the story, the other half is that that same area is just 165 miles off the Taiwan coast and within the 200 miles EEZ of Taiwan. Thus, the area is an overlapping EEZ. According to the Law of the Sea, when EEZs overlap or coastal baselines are less than 400 nautical miles apart, it is up to the states to negotiate the actual maritime boundary.
The Philippines may argue that the location where the incident occurred is a point closer to the Philippine coastal baseline and defaults to the nearest state or the Philippines. The more difficult case for the Philippines is the use of heavy armament against the unarmed Taiwanese fishing vessels, and the contention that the fishing vessel tried to ram the clearly heavily armed PCG vessel. Why would an unarmed vessel manned by scrawny, ordinary fishermen, as obvious from the video footages of the crews, dare to assault another armed vessel?
Worse, if the Taiwanese view is validated, the Taiwan news reports claim the PCG shots were fired 52 rounds at the rear of the fishing vessel which was apparently speeding away instead of confronting the PCG vessel. The PCG claimed it wanted to disable the “poachers,” but 52 rounds do seem excessive.
On CCTV 9 a Chinese foreign relations expert emphasized that the Philippine maritime officers have killed Chinese fisherman before the last time in 2006. He added that 30 incidents of arrests have been recorded over the years, and often demands for ransom for the release of the fishermen were made. The Hong Kong Tourist Massacre incident in Luneta was recalled and opprobrium heaped on Philippine police and governance. The Taiwanese lawmaker added that given the facts, the US must take a position on the side of the Taiwanese against it other ally, the Philippines; implying that otherwise, In the “new era of cross-straits relations” (PROC and Taiwan) where the US does not count as much as previously, Taiwan can gravitate closer to China if the US does not support the Taiwanese case. Taiwan’s bitterness can be a coup for PROC’s diplomacy.
A fellow Filipino said to me “Why should be stand for a ‘deadline’ from a country of only 20-million people (Taiwan)?” The Philippines often feels it is always in the losing end of disputes with its northern neighbors of the China or West Philippines Sea, but a lot of its woes has to do with its own failings. Besides, the Taiwanese did lose a life to the PCG, just as the Hong Kong people lost eight killed in the Luneta, and we do have 87,000 OFWs in Taiwan and China does buy billions from Filipino exporters. But the Philippines is in a hapless position not because of them but because it has the kind of leaders like those unremarkable top senators chosen in the last elections who can never oppose US-local oligarchy, corporatist corruption and economic abuse and exploitation impoverishing this country.
(Tune to 1098AM, 5 to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; Destiny Cable, Channel 8, Sat. 8pm and Sun 8am: this week “Circus Over: What to expect”; visit: http//www.newkatipunero.blogspot.com).
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