COCO LEVY FUND BILL IN SENATE MOVES FORWARD, HOUSE URGED TO FAST-TRACK

Senators on Wednesday night finished examining Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s coco levy trust fund bill, moving the measure closer to becoming a law with the end of the period of interpellation.

Umaasa tayo na ma-ipapasa natin ang Coco Levy Trust Fund measure sa third and final reading bago matapos ang first regular session ng Kongreso sa Hunyo (We hope we would be able to pass the Coco Levy Trust Fund measure on third and final reading before the first regular session of Congress adjourns in June),” said the Liberal Party president.

Pangilinan was removed as chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food during a recent Senate re-organization, but he continued to defend the bill that seeks to correct the 40-year-old injustice on coconut farmers, with new committee chair Sen. Cynthia Villar agreeing to let him finish work he has started.

Matapos ang mga interpellation, kaagad tayong maghahanda para sa period of individual amendments (After the interpellations, we will immediately prepare for the period of individual amendments),” Pangilinan said

The period of individual amendments for the Coco Levy Trust Fund bill is set to begin next week. Once the period of individual amendment concludes, the Senate shall put to a vote the passage of the measure.

“Habang patuloy na gumagalaw ang ating panukalang batas sa Senado, umaasa tayo na gagawin din ng ating mga kasamahan sa Kamara ang kanilang tungkulin. Hinihimok natin sila na bigyang prayoridad ang pagpasa sa panukalang batas na ito alang-alang sa ating mga magniniyog na nananatiling pinakamahihirap sa lahat (As our bill in the Senate continues to progress, we hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives do their part as well. We urge them to give priority into the passage of this measure for the sake of our coconut farmers who remain among the poorest of the poor), Pangilinan said.

Once enacted into law, Pangilinan said, the landmark Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Bill will:

·        Specify that the estimated P100-billion in cash and assets of the coco levy fund will go only for the development of the coconut industry.

·        Establish a perpetual trust fund that will only use the interest income earned.

·        Create a fund trustee, the Trust Fund Committee, of which six of its eleven members, or a majority, are either from coconut farmers groups or their representatives. Chaired by the Secretary of Finance, and co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture, the committee will decide on how to invest the fund.

·        Specify the formulation of a Coconut Development Plan.

·        Ensure the active participation of coconut farmers at every stage of the implementation of the law.

The senators who scrutinized the measure for fine-tuning were Senators Risa Hontiveros, Grace Poe, Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva, Leila De Lima, Ralph Recto, and Richard Gordon. Majority Floor Leader Sen. Vicente Sotto III was the last to interpellate.

Starting 1973, government collected taxes from coconut farmers purportedly to develop the industry. However, cronies of the late dictator used the collected levies to enrich themselves until the Supreme Court ruled to get the monies back from them and instructed the government to use them in trust in behalf of the coconut farmers.