MANILA – Opposition leader Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan opens the 18th Congress by filing 10 priority measures focusing on agriculture, environment, and civil service on Monday, July 1.
This includes the much-delayed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act or the Coco Levy Act; bills on post-harvest facilities, organic farming, and expanded crop insurance; National Land Use Act of 2019; establishment of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Disaster and Emergency Management; Rainwater Management Bill; Single-Use Plastic Regulation and Management Act; and the Basic Education Teachers Pay Increase Act.
“Ipagpapatuloy natin ang labang sinimulan bago ang ika-17 Kongreso. Naniniwala tayo na dapat unahin ang sektor ng agrikultura, lalo na ang pagtaas ng kita ng mga magsasaka at mangingisda. Makakatulong sa pagpapagaan ng kahirapan at pagpapalakas sa ekonomiya sa kanayunan. Para mangyari ito, kailangan din nating taguyod ang mga kaugnay na batas para sa kalikasan,” Pangilinan said.
(“We will continue the fight we started even before the 17th Congress. We believe that prioritizing the agriculture sector and increasing the incomes of farmers and fisher folk would help in alleviating poverty and bolstering the economy in rural areas. To support this endeavor, we must also pursue relevant legislations for the environment.”)
Pangilinan’s Sagip Saka Act (Republic Act 11321), a 2016 campaign promise passed into law in the recently concluded 17th Congress, aims to ensure market for farmers’ and fishers’ produce by requiring government programs to buy from accredited farmers’ and fishers’ cooperatives and organizations, removing middlemen who often earn more than the food producers. It exempts government (national agencies and local) from the Procurement Law when they buy directly from these co-ops. It also exempts donors from paying donors tax when making donations such as capital outlay for farm equipment, post-harvest facilities, and agriculture infrastructure, among others, to these organizations.
COCO LEVY ANEW
After President Duterte vetoed it in the 17th Congress, the Coco Levy Act will hopefully push through in the 18th Congress.
“Mahigit 40 taon nang hinihintay ito ng ating mga magniniyog. Habang tumatagal na hindi nila pinapakinabangan, tumatagal din ang pagkalugmok nila sa hirap,” said Pangilinan.
(“Our coconut farmers have been waiting for this for over 40 years. The longer they are not able to access the fund, the longer they live in poverty.”)
The coco levy was imposed on coconut farmers during martial law aimed to benefit the contributors, but instead benefited only the cronies of the late dictator Marcos who managed the fund that has grown to about P80 billion.
Pangilinan’s Coco Levy Act is the first of the five agriculture bills Pangilinan is pushing for this 18th Congress. It aims to establish a trust fund to be utilized by coconut farmers and the coconut industry. It will also mechanisms for the disposition of some coco levy assets, management and utilization of the available coco levy funds, providing coconut farmers a say on how the fund will be managed, invested, allocated, and utilized.
Among the other agriculture bills that the senator will file are the Post-Harvest Facilities Support Act which aims to improve the lowering of post-harvest production losses, and the Expanded Crop Insurance Act which will increase the mandatory crop insurance especially during recurring disasters and calamities.
Pangilinan is also filing an amendment to the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, which aims to help ensure that the needs of the small holder farmers and farm workers are met.
“Ang pag-unlad ng produksyon ng pagkain ay dapat sukatin hindi sa dami ng produksyon, kundi sa kung umuunlad ba ang buhay ng mga manggagawa rito. Ang dapat na batayan ay ang kita ng mga magsasaka at mangingisda. Sa ganitong paraan lang natin malalaman kung nakikinabang na ang mga ating mga mamamayan sa ating mga reporma,” Pangilinan said.
(“Progress in food production should be measured not in the volume of production, but in whether or not the agricultural workers’ life has improved. The benchmark should be the income of farmers and fisher folk. Only then would we know that our people are benefiting from our reforms.”)
“Kailangan nating mag-ani ng kasaganaan para sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda. Sa gayon, aani ang lahat ng masaganang kinabukasan,” said Pangilinan, former food security secretary.
(“We need to harvest abundance for our farmers and fisher folk. When this happens, all will harvest an abundant future.”)
FISHERIES AND DISASTER PREPAREDNESS
Pangilinan also filed bills for the establishment of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR), and the Department of Disaster and Emergency Management (DEM).
“Itong kambal na hakbang ang titiyak na ang mga apektadong sektor ay mabibigyan ng sapat na pondo, ang DFAR lalo na pagkatapos ng insidente sa Recto Bank. Kailangan nating tiyakin na hindi ito mangyayari muli, at ang lahat ng ating mga mapagkukunan ng yamang-dagat at tubig ay inaalagaan, pinoprotektahan, at maayos na gagamitin,” said Pangilinan.
(“These twin measures will ensure that the affected sectors will be given sufficient funding, the DFAR especially following the incident at Recto Bank. We need to make sure that this will not happen again, and that all our marine and aquatic resources are cared for, protected, and utilized sustainably.”)
“Sa kasalukuyan, tayo ang ikatlong pinaka-inaabutan ng sakuna sa buong mundo. Sa pagtindi ng epekto ng krisis sa klima, kailangan din nating patindihin ang ating mga hakbang upang tayo ay handa sa anumang dadalhin ng kalikasan. Ayaw natin ng isa pang Ondoy. Ayaw natin ng isa pang Yolanda,” Pangilinan said.
(“We currently rank as the third most disaster-prone country in the world. With the escalation of the effects of climate crisis, we need to escalate our measures so that we are prepared for whatever nature will bring. We do not want another Ondoy. We do not want another Yolanda.”)
To complement these measures, Pangilinan also filed the National Land Use Act to institutionalize a comprehensive land use policy that will ensure sustainable use of the country’s land and physical resources, and will integrate and harmonize conflicting laws, policies, principles, and guidelines on land use and physical planning; and the Rainwater Management Bill which hopes to conserve rainwater and reduce runoff that will instead be used for urban and rural irrigation, groundwater recharge, firefighting, and a source for non-potable water supply.
Pangilinan also filed the Single-Use Plastics Regulation and Management Act which aims to help manage the country’s “sachet economy” and problematic waste disposal. It will prohibit and phase out the use and production of single use plastics.
SERVING THE TEACHERS
Recognizing that teachers are underpaid, Pangilinan filed a bill to increase the salary of public school teachers, locally-funded teachers, and Philippine Science High School System teaching and non-teaching personnel, and non- teaching personnel of the Department of Education, excluding those occupying positions from salary grade level 30.
The bill proposes an additional compensation of P10,000 per month to be paid in three tranches. There will also be additional support in the form of allowances and remuneration from local school board funds, a medical allowance of P1,000, and an annual Magna Carta Bonus.
“Panahon nang kilalanin ang hirap ng ating mga guro at iba pang nagtatrabaho sa public schools. Sila ang nagtuturo sa susunod na henerasyon, pero di pa rin sapat ang kanilang kita. Dapat nating kilalanin ang kanilang paglilingkod, at hikayatin din ang mas marami pang mga kabataan na magturo rin sa public schools,” Pangilinan said.
(“It is high time that we recognize the hard work of our public school teachers and personnel. They are responsible for educating the next generation, yet they continue to be grievously underpaid. We must recognize their service, and also encourage more youth to take up the mantle of public school teaching.”)
The Senator is also slated to file 10 more bills on Monday, July 8.
This is Pangilinan’s third term in the Senate. He was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture at the start of the 17th Congress. He was also Senate majority leader in the 13th and 14th Congress starting 2004.
Pangilinan also serves as the president of the Liberal Party and is spearheading its transition into a more people-centered political party.
The Senate will resume session on July 22.