By Vanne Terrazola
The Senate has ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the measures creating the P105-billion coconut trust fund for farmers and strengthening the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
In its session Wednesday, the Upper Chamber adopted the new final version of the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act which would facilitate the release of the coco levy fund collected from farmers during the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.
The Senate last month recalled the enrolled bill sent to President Duterte after Cabinet officials aired concerns over the lack of a sunset provision on the proposed P10-billion annual fund to the PCA for augmented assistance to coconut farmers and the composition of the PCA Board.
“This report, in effect, withdraws the bicam report of October 11, 2018,”said Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food in sponsoring the new bicameral report.
Under the second version of the coco levy bill, Villar said farmers will annually receive P5 billion of the coconut trust fund for 25 years.
The PCA, which would manage the trust fund, shall also be allocated with P10 billion to spend for programs specified in the bill.
In the strengthened PCA law, the members of the PCA board were increased from 11 to 15. The board would be composed of representatives from eight government agencies, namely: the Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Trade and Industry, Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines.
There will also be six farmer representatives in the PCA board, including two each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao; and another representative from the private sector.
Villar earlier expressed confidence that the new coco levy bill would not be vetoed by the President.
The Senate also adopted and ratified the bicam-approved version of the bill that would liberalize the importation and exportation of rice, a measure which was certified as urgent by President Duterte.
A consolidation of Senate Bill 1998 and house Bill 7735, the proposed rice tariffication law, would lift the quantitative restrictions on rice imports and impose tariffs in its stead. It will also remove unnecessary government intervention on rice market with the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council.
Under the bill, a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) of at least P10 billion will be allocated annually for the local rice industry.
The RCEF shall amount to a minimum P10 billion a year for six years, and tariff revenues in excess of P10 billion shall be appropriated by Congress based on the programs in the proposed rice tariffication law, including financial assistance to distressed rice farmers.
The bill, amending the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, is expected to tame the rising prices of rice in the country.