August 27, 2017

A Coco Levy Trust Fund law would be the best gift President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress could give to the Filipino coconut farmers as the country observes the National Coconut Week, Liberal Party President Senator Francis Pangilinan said Sunday.

Pangilinan, who served as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural modernization in the last administration, said the bill could be approved within the year after leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives identified it as among the priority measures for passage.

Marami na sa ating magniniyog ang namatay na nang di man lang nakatikim ng bunga ng kanilang pagod. Naghintay na sila ng mahigit 40 taon. Huwag natin silang paghintayin pa (Many farmers have died without being able to benefit from the fund that came from their hard labor. They have waited for over 40 years. We can’t tell them to wait some more),” he said.

The senator said the coco levy fund would also be a big boost for the industry constantly hounded by problems like pests and calamities.

Pangilinan’s Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Bill will, among others:

·       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 bill is pending second reading at the Senate. A similar version is being deliberated in plenary at the House.

The coco levy funds were proceeds of a forced tax imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on the coconut industry between 1973 and 1982.

The funds collected were valued at P9.7 billion and now estimated to have grown to around P100 billion.

None of the bills filed in the past congresses seeking to utilize the funds to develop the coconut industry and benefit the farmers were passed. Coconut farmers groups nationwide, the religious sector, and civil society organizations have all supported the passage of the measure.

Ang tagal nang naging laban sa mga korte ng usaping ito. Ngayon ang labanan ay nasa Malacanang at Kongreso, kung saan pulitika ang maaaring umiral (More than the long, arduous fights in court, the main battleground is in Malacañang and Congress, where politics could come into play),” Pangilinan said.

Former President Noynoy Aquino issued Executive Orders 179 and 180 that authorized the utilization of the coconut levy funds to benefit coconut farmers, but these were stopped by a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court.

The legal impasse can be resolved if Congress is finally able to pass a law establishing a trust fund for the coconut farmers, Pangilinan said.

Wakasin na natin ang paghihirap ng ating magniniyog at ibigay na natin sa kanila at sa kanilang mga pamilya ang nararapat na kanila at pinagtrabahuhan nila. Nawa’y matupad ito ng kasalukuyang administrasyon (Let’s end our coconut farmers’ woes and give to them and their families what they deserve and work hard for. Let this administration do it),” he said.

The National Coconut Week is observed from August 24 to 30 every year by virtue of Proclamation 142 signed on 19 August 1987, by then President Corazon Aquino.