On February 20, 2012, Nagkakaisang Ugnayan ng mga Magsasaka at Manggagawa sa Niyugan (NIUGAN)-Quezon held its first general assembly for the year in Lopez, Quezon. NIUGAN Quezon is the provincial chapter of the national federation, NIUGAN, which was convened by PRRM in January 2000 to promote the issues and interests of small coconut farmers in the Philippines.
While this was one of the organisation’s regularly scheduled ‘Council of Leaders’ meetings, this assembly gave particular cause for celebration – not only since it was held on the Kapitan’s milestone 60th birthday, but because it was also the group’s first official meeting since the latest development in the ongoing coco levy recovery efforts. On January 24, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the coconut farmers in the case to recover the 24 per cent of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) shares originally obtained with funds from the Coconut Industry Investment Fund. While this decision is still subject to further motions for reconsideration, NIUGAN Quezon and coco farmers nationwide are feeling optimistic about this positive step in their advocacy and recovery efforts.
The full day meeting was led by PRRM Area Manager for Quezon, Amor R. Cabico, and NIUGAN-Quezon leader and NIUGAN Vice President Adelmo “Kapitan” Arandela. They were joined by 13 leaders and observers, including two farmers from Lopez municipality considering membership with NIUGAN Quezon; and two representatives from a Marinduque-based sustainable agriculture federation, Kalipunan ng mga Samahan para sa Likas Kayang Pananakahan (KASALIKAPA). Participants travelled from the towns of Calauag, Gumaca, Guinayangan, Tagkawayan, Atimonan, Lopez and Alabat to attend the meeting. PRRM was also represented by two Manila-based Australian volunteers who are conducting research which will support PRRM’s continued advocacy for small coco farmers.
Following a warm welcome and introductions, the meeting included discussion on the recent NIUGAN national assembly, Local Coconut Industry Development Councils (LCIDCs), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ National Greening Program, and diversified farming technology projects being undertaken.
The meeting’s highlight was a discussion on the latest National Anti-Poverty Council (NAPC) report for its first quarterly meeting in 2012. Kapitan Adelmo represents NIUGAN on NAPC and shared with Quezon members NAPC’s plan for tackling poverty in the industry through a ‘Coconut Industry Road Map’. The road map offers one possible framework for improving the lives of coco farmers, particularly pertinent following the Supreme Court ruling which brings the government one step closer to recovering the 24 per cent block of SMC shares – valued at an estimated PhP 60-80 billion – for the direct benefit of coco farmers in the Philippines.
The meeting concluded with the extension of the Kapitan’s tenure as NIUGAN Quezon leader for the next quarter, with official elections scheduled for the next meeting in June.