MANILA – Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Tuesday pressed the House of Representatives to hurry the hearings on the Coconut Trust Fund Bill. He said its immediate passage would unlock the P75 billion coco levy funds for the benefit of the 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers.
“Hinihimok natin ang ating mga kasamahan sa Kongreso na umpisahan na ang hearing sa panukalang-batas sa Coco Levy Trust Fund. Natapos na ang hearing sa Senado noong Setyembre 1, at ang committee report ay inihahanda na (We urge our colleagues in Congress to immediately start the hearings on the proposed Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill. The Senate already concluded its hearings last September 1, and is in the process of preparing the committee report),” Pangilinan said.
“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),” he added.
Earlier, the Duterte administration recognized that the monies cannot be distributed to the farmers as it had promised during the election campaign because those who contributed to the levy more than 40 years ago cannot be determined anymore, among other reasons.
In separate statements, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol also pointed out that a temporary restraining order (TRO) of the Supreme Court is preventing the current administration from using and distributing the funds.
The Supreme Court has issued a TRO on two executive orders of then-President Aquino that transferred a portion of the funds to the government’s general fund.
The P75-billion fund is 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 said.
The P75-billion coco levy funds were collected from coconut farmers during Martial Law purportedly for the development of the coconut industry. But instead the collected monies have been misused by the cronies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 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.
Pangilinan, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the needed legislation requires the prompt action of both Houses of the Congress.
“Huwag na nating paghintayin pa nang matagal ang ating magsasaka. Mahigit 40 taon na itong naantala,” dagdag niya (We should not keep our farmers waiting much longer. This is something that is more than 40 years late),” he said.