Today, I welcomed to the CBCP Compound in Intramuros our coconut farmers who came to Manila to seek the attention of the national government in alleviating their plight. I join my voices with theirs.

The Lord hears the cry of the poor!

Yolanda hit everyone hard, but coconut farmers in the Visayas, with particular devastation. In fact, many coconut farmers, we are told, have given up on the dollar-crop altogether, reckoning it more expensive to revive their coconut businesses rather than to start with something new, from the ground up!

But coconut farmers are everywhere in the country, and their problems are similar. They are justified in their protest that they have not been given sufficient assistance by government. They are also well within their rights to complain that what should be their, or for their benefit has not been given them.

Less in life, more in Law

In the 2012 case of Cojuangco v. Republic of the Philippines, the Supreme Court wisely ruled:

Similarly in this case, the coconut levy funds were sourced from forced exactions decreed under P.D. Nos. 232, 276 and 582, among others, with the end-goal of developing the entire coconut industry. Clearly, to hold therefore, even by law, that the revenues received from the imposition of the coconut levies be used purely for private purposes to be owned by private individuals in their private capacity and for their benefit, would contravene the rationale behind the imposition of taxes or levies.

Needless to stress, courts do not, as they cannot, allow by judicial fiat the conversion of special funds into a private fund for the benefit of private individuals. In the same vein, we cannot subscribe to the idea of what appears to be an indirect – if not exactly direct – conversion of special funds into private funds, i.e., by using special funds to purchase shares of stocks, which in turn would be distributed for free to private individuals. Even if these private individuals belong to, or are a part of the coconut industry, the free distribution of shares of stocks purchased with special public funds to them, nevertheless cannot be justified. The ratio in Gaston, as articulated below, applies mutatis mutandis to this case:

The stabilization fees in question are levied by the State … for a special purpose – that of “financing the growth and development of the sugar industry and all its components, stabilization of the domestic market including the foreign market.” The fact that the State has taken possession of moneys pursuant to law is sufficient to constitute them as state funds even though they are held for a special purpose….”

Very clearly then, the funds raised by exactions from coconut farmers cannot be applied to private purposes and should be used for the benefit of the coconut farmers themselves.

Thou shalt not steal!

Not to use such funds for the benefit of the coconut farmers is against the seventh commandment “Thou shalt not steal.”

Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” took up the plight of those who find themselves truly oppressed because of the inadequacy of financing schemes through lawful institutions. Our Pope emeritus said:

“Both the regulation of the financial sector, so as to safeguard weaker parties and discourage scandalous speculation, and experimentation with new forms of finance, designed to support development projects, are positive experiences that should be further explored and encouraged, highlighting the responsibility of the investor. Furthermore, the experience of micro-finance, which has its roots in the thinking and activity of the civil humanists — I am thinking especially of the birth of pawnbroking — should be strengthened and fine-tuned. This is all the more necessary in these days when financial difficulties can become severe for many of the more vulnerable sectors of the population, who should be protected from the risk of usury and from despair. The weakest members of society should be helped to defend themselves against usury, just as poor peoples should be helped to derive real benefit from micro-credit, in order to discourage the exploitation that is possible in these two areas. Since rich countries are also experiencing new forms of poverty, micro-finance can give practical assistance by launching new initiatives and opening up new sectors for the benefit of the weaker elements in society, even at a time of general economic downturn.”

Standing by the Weak

My fear, as President of CBCP, is that our coconut farmers are, by a cruel turn of circumstances, becoming part of the weaker if not weakest members of society — victims of those who, in an unprincipled and un-Christian manner, exploit the defenselessness of the economically harassed. I join the protest against this marginalization of our coconut farmers and call on the government to demonstrate its resolve at social justice in their favor.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, November 24, 2014

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP