Reconstituted PCA to manage P100-B coco levy funds — Bicam Committee

MANILA – The Bicameral Conference Committee on the controversial coco levy measure met on Wednesday to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of House Bill No. 5745 and Senate Bill No. 1233, creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund and providing for its management and utilization.

The Committee, co-chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar and ANAC-IP Rep. Jose Pananiban, agreed that the P100 billion coco levy fund, consisting of the P76 billion in Treasury and escrow accounts and an estimated P30 billion in assets, will form the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, which shall be used exclusively for the benefit of coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.

In lieu of a Trust Fund Committee originally proposed by Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, a reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) will prepare the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, and manage, invest, and decide on the utilization of the coco levy fund.

However, this would mean that before the funds can be used, Congress must first pass a separate law reconstituting the governing board of the PCA to be composed of six farmer-representatives, four government representatives, and one industry representative.

The Bicameral Committee agreed that the funds will be released to the PCA at P5 billion annually until it runs out, which is estimated to be within 25 years. The proposed measure provides for the utilization of the fund as follows:

(a)    Share facilities program, 30 percent;
(b)    Scholarship program, 15 percent;
(c)    Empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives, 15 percent;
(d)    Farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency, 30 percent; and
(e)    Health and medical, 10 percent.

On top of this, P10 billion shall be included in the annual appropriation of the PCA to augment the fund. The proposed measure provides for this specific allocation.

Senator Pangilinan, principal author and sponsor of the Senate bill, placed on record his reservations on the bicameral committee’s final version.

In particular, the final version adopted the House version that does not limit the definition of farmers to those owning not more than five hectares of coconut farm. He argued that deleting this limitation would effectively include large farm-owners.

Also, Senator Pangilinan expressed reservations on provisions on the perpetual nature of the trust fund and the creation of a trust fund committee composed mainly of farmers, which he fought for during the deliberations in the Senate but were unfortunately not adopted.

“I cannot agree in that regard and therefore I have my reservations in respect to these amendments,” Pangilinan said.

“I place on record that I would have wanted the Bicam to restore some of the provisions that were not adopted in the Senate. In fact, it was in the House version, but now, it’s no longer in the House version which is the perpetual nature of the fund and the creation of the trust fund committee.

“So, again I would have to express my reservation to the final version of the Bicam,” Pangilinan added.

The coco levy fund came from the taxes imposed on coconut farmers’ products by the late dictator and his cronies. The funds collected, valued at P9.7 billion, is now estimated to have grown to around more than P100 billion.

After more than four long decades of legal and political battle, the importance of delivering justice to our coconut farmers cannot be overly emphasized.

However, with the eventual passage of the Bicameral version of the bill, government must ensure farmers representation in every decision regarding the development plan, disbursements, management, and utilization of the coco levy fund, and that the fund is used only for the benefit of our poor coconut farmers and the development of the industry.