By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
President Duterte has rejected the proposed law strengthening the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Board.
This was bared by Senate President Vicente Sotto III during the Upper Chamber’s session Friday night as he said that he received a message from the Office of the President, stating that Duterte was rejecting the bill seeking to reconstitute the PCA board and increase farmer representation in the agency that would manage the distribution of the P105-billion coco levy fund.
“The Honorable Senate President and members of the Senate, ladies and gentleman, we respectfully transmit herewith the veto message of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on consolidated enrolled Senate Bill No. 1976 and House Bill 8552 entitled ‘An Act to Further Strengthen the Philippine Coconut Authority’,” read part of the letter signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.
Medialdea’s letter included the President’s veto message, which, on the other hand, was not read on the Senate plenary.
Duterte, in his letter received by Sotto’s office on February 8, said he was “constrained to veto” the bill that will strengthen the PCA despite its inclusion the priority measures of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).
The Chief Executive said that while he recognized that the bill aimed to protect coconut farmers and ensure that the benefits coconut trust fund were delivered to to them, “the present formulation of the proposed legislative measure regrettably lacks vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes in the past.”
He added that the powers to be granted by the proposed law to the PCA “undermine relevant regulations and safeguards that were established precisely to avoid abuses.”
“I am certain that neither Congress or the Executive can bear to see our coconut farmers being exposed to injury by the very legislation that was intended for their benefit or protection, especially if such injury could have been prevented by the institution of necessary safeguards,” Duterte said.
Duterte, however, did not specify in his letter the supposed lapses of the enrolled bill.
The measure seeking to strengthen the PCA board was supposed to complement 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 former President Ferdinand Marcos.
It would amend the Revised Coconut Industry Code of 1978 to increase the number of farmer representatives in the 11-member PCA board.
The coco levy bill also contained such a provision.
Some of President Duterte’s Cabinet members, earlier, expressed “dislike” over the initially- proposed composition of the 11-member PCA board as they wanted the majority of the members to be government officials, not farmers.
In the original proposal, six farmer representatives, four government agencies, and one private sector representative shall make up the PCA board.
The PCA bill was then amended to raise the number of PCA board members from 11 to 15.
From the initial four, government membership was increased to eight, which includes: 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.
The number of farmer representatives was retained in the proposed PCA board, including two each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Another representative would be from the private sector.