After the early proclamation of president and vice president and with two weeks before its adjournment sine die on June 10, Senate can use the time to pass the coco levy trust fund bill, returning Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Sunday.
“This is an urgent issue for our country because we cannot have our 3.5 million coconut farmers and farmworkers wait any longer so that they can already benefit from the levy collected from them since 43 years ago,” said the former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.
“The Supreme Court decision has freed the monies so that the government can develop the coconut industry to benefit the coconut farmers, who earn on the average P15,000 every year. That’s P50 a day. That cannot even get you a P56 roundtrip ticket end-to-end on MRT,” he added.
Pangilinan said political leaders have recognized the urgency of the passage of the Coco Levy Trust Fund measure. He said that last October, President Aquino certified it as urgent and the House of Representatives passed it on third reading.
This measure, he pointed out, is based on a draft poverty reduction roadmap for the coconut industry prepared by the National Anti-Poverty Commission in consultation with coconut farmers.
About 25 million Filipinos depend on the industry that takes up 3.4 million hectares of land planted to coconut in 68 of the country’s 79 provinces, or around 26 percent of the total agricultural lands, according to the roadmap.
“Nothing at this stage prevents the Senate from passing the law. From now until June 9, the Senate can pass that law and both Houses of Congress can ratify it,” Pangilinan said.
“It is totally unjust to let our coconut farmers wait for what is rightfully theirs: the coco levy fund, a developed coconut industry, and a decent livelihood coming from increased incomes,” he added.
During the campaign, Pangilinan has repeatedly called for the passage of the measure, including the time when the coco levy fund became one of the highlights of the second presidential debate.
Adjournment sine die (from the Latin “without day”) means “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing.” To adjourn an assembly sine die is to adjourn it for an indefinite period. A legislative body adjourns sine die when it adjourns without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.
KEY FEATURES OF THE COCO LEVY TRUST FUND BILL
Pangilinan said that when passed into law, the measure would benefit coconut farmers who contributed part of their earnings since Martial Law to the fund created purportedly for their benefit.
The Supreme Court has ruled that part of the fund, transferred to Marcos crony-owned corporations and used to buy various financial instruments and now valued at about P73 billion, are government funds.
Pangilinan, who helped craft the bill as Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said that under the measure, the P73 billion turns into a perpetual fund, with the principal staying intact.
A body of coconut farmers’ and government representatives will implement the roadmap and decide on the type of high-yielding investment into which it can put the money, without using the principal.
The roadmap focuses on coco enterprise development, Pangilinan explained, because traditional copra is no longer profitable. He said other products such as virgin coconut oil, coco sugar, and coco water are higher-value products that farmers can go into for bigger earnings.
HISTORY OF COCO LEVY FUND AND FARMERS’ STRUGGLES
The coco levy fund started as 55-centavo-per-100-kilogram fee collected from each coconut farmer beginning in 1973, purportedly to be used to stabilize the domestic price of coconut-based consumer goods like cooking oil. The Philippine Coconut Authority was used as conduit for these collections that increased to P20 in 1974 to finance the development of a hybrid coconut tree.
Many coconut farmers who opposed or questioned the collected levies for which they did not benefit were harassed, imprisoned, and killed during Martial Law. And Marcos and his cronies enriched themselves.
For a long time after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos fled the country and in the succeeding administrations, the fund has been stuck in court disputes.
In 2012, the Supreme Court awarded a 24-percent bloc of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund-San Miguel Corp. (CIIF-SMC) shares, bought with coco levy funds, to the government to be used for coconut farmers and the industry.
From September to November 2014, 71 coconut farmers marched from Davao to Manila to seek public and government support for their call to release the then P71 billion of the coco levy fund made finally available to them by the Supreme Court decision.
In March 2015, acting on the coconut farmers’ appeal, Malacanang issued two executive orders that aimed to give coco farmers access to their fund, detailing the judicious steps to be taken and the stakeholders involved in the process.
Executive Order 179 required the “inventory, privatization, and reconveyance and in favor of the government of all coconut levy assets, including but not limited to the shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) Companies and CIIF Holding Companies, as well as the 5,500,000 San Miguel Corporation shares registered in the name of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).”
EO180 ordered the “immediate transfer and reconveyance of the coconut levy assets to the government and use them for the Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap and the Roadmap for Coco Levy.”
In June 2015, the Supreme Court temporarily stopped the implementation of the two executive orders through a temporary restraining order.
In October 2015, the House of Representatives passed on third reading the Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill. The Senate only went as far as period of amendments even with the President certifying the bill as urgent.