As the House of Representatives is scheduled to begin discussing the bill restoring death penalty this week, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Sunday asked congressmen to instead fast-track the coco levy trust fund bill, another priority of the Duterte administration.
“Nakapag-umpisa na kami sa Senado at malayo-layo na rin ang aming narating. Sa Lunes, naka-schedule ang ikatlong interpellation natin sa ating panukalang batas ukol dito. Sana unahin din ng ating mga kinatawan sa Mababang Kapulungan itong makakatugon sa problema ng kahirapan at kawalang-katarungan ng ating magniniyog imbes na sa death penalty. Patayin ang kagutuman, huwag ang gutom (We at the Senate have started on this and have made good progress. Tomorrow, Monday, is the schedule of the third set of interpellations on this measure. We hope that our representatives in the Lower House would focus on this problem of poverty and injustice of our coconut farmers instead of on the death penalty. Let’s eliminate hunger, not the hungry),” said Pangilinan, author of a coco levy trust fund bill that is scheduled for interpellation in the Senate this week.
On winning his third Senate term, Pangilinan, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, immediately filed a coco levy trust fund bill. Taking a cue from President Duterte’s economic priorities, Pangilinan’s committee finished hearing the bill on September 1 and rushed to get the Senate’s approval of the committee report on November 9.
“Hinihimok natin ang ating mga kasamahan sa Kongreso na umpisahan na ang hearing sa panukalang-batas sa coco levy trust fund. Ang balita sa atin ay nagkaroon pa lang ng technical working group meeting pero wala pang hearing. Naipasa na ito ng Mababang Kapulungan noong nakaraang Kongreso nang i-certify ito as urgent ng dating Pangulong Aquino (We urge our colleagues in Congress to start hearing the coco levy trust fund bill. We were told that there have been meetings of the technical working group but no hearings. The Lower House passed this bill in the last Congress after then President Aquino certified this bill as urgent),” said Pangilinan.
“Siguro, dapat na ring i-certify as urgent ng Pangulong Duterte ang panukalang batas na ito para umusad na sa Mababang Kapulungan (Perhaps President Duterte also needs to certify this bill as urgent so that it will move in the Lower House),” he added.
At the height of the election campaign last year, President Duterte and his running-mate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano promised coconut farmers that in the first 100 days of administration, they will ensure that the coconut farmers will benefit from the now over P76-billion coco levy fund.
In a manifesto signed in front of coconut farmers, the two vowed “to open a new and happy chapter in the lives of our coconut industry and small coconut farmers” and “to support going after the remaining funds left with cronies” who used the levy collected from poor coconut farmers to create his corporate empire that includes the food giant San Miguel Corp., a bank, and coconut processing companies.
“Meron tayong malinaw na mensahe mula sa administrasyon para ituwid ang kawalang katarungang ito na bunga ng martial law. Dapat nating madaliin ito para sa ating mga naghihirap pa ring magniniyog (We have a clear message from the administration to correct this particular martial law injustice. Let’s do it as soon as possible for the sake of our impoverished coconut farmers),” Pangilinan said.
In 1973, a year after the late President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, the late dictator ordered that coconut farmers pay additional levy or tax for a share in future investments in the coconut industry. But he, together with his cronies, used these taxes, now known as the coco levy fund, to buy the United Coconut Farmers Bank and invest in San Miguel Corp. and enrich themselves.
After Marcos was deposed in 1986, coconut farmers, with the help of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, filed court cases to recover their investment. For over 40 years, the money was trapped in court disputes.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the coco levy fund is public fund and awarded it to the government solely for the development of the coconut industry. The monies are already with the national treasury and cannot be spent without congressional approval or a new law.
“Ibig sabihin, kailangang gumawa ng batas ang Kongreso na magpapahintulot sa paggamit ng pondong ito (This means Congress needs to enact a legislation that will allow for these funds to be utilized),” Pangilinan explained, adding that the immediate passage of the coco levy trust fund bill would unlock the over P76 billion coco levy funds for the benefit of the 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers.
Once enacted into law, Pangilinan said, this landmark bill will:
- Specify that the fund in cash and assets of the coco levy fund will go only for the development of the coconut industry.
- Establish a perpetual trust fund which 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. It will be chaired by the Secretary of Finance, and co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture.
- Specify the formulation of a Coconut Development Plan.
- Ensure the active participation of coconut farmers at every stage of the implementation of the law.