By Mario Casayuran
After the President’s veto and a promise to veto it again in last Monday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), Sen. Francis N. Pangilinan on Tuesday urged fellow legislators of the 18th Congress to pass the long-overdue bill that would allow the country’s 3.5 million coconut farmers to benefit from the estimated P100-billion fund in cash and assets.
‘’Most of the farmers now who were imposed with the coco levy are already old, if not deceased, and were not able to get a glimpse of the justice they’ve been fighting for for decades,” he added.
Pangilinan was the former Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization in the Ninoy Aquino presidency.
“The help expected from government has been long overdue but we can still make right the wrong in our history. The coconut levy bill nut is a giant nut we should be able to crack for our farmers,” added Pangilinan, who championed the coconut farmers’ cause as Secretary on Food Security and again as senator in the 17th Congress.
Pangilinan has re-filed Senate Bill 31 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, a version of the bill crafted after close consultations with coconut farmer organizations.
First among all the measures we have filed is our proposed legislation for our coconut farmers because our priority is to finally put an end to their suffering and make their lives more comfortable, he said.
In the 17th Congress, the proposed legislation for the coco levy fund had been ratified by both houses of Congress and was submitted to Malacañang for the President’s approval.
Congress later recalled the already ratified bill back to the bicameral conference committee to flesh out certain provisions to prevent a possible veto from the President.
Three months after its reapproval from Congress, the President vetoed the coco levy measure.
The coco levy refers to the additional taxes imposed on coconut farmers in 1973 by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The coco levy fund was then used to invest in businesses for the personal gain of Marcos and his cronies.
After Marcos was deposed in 1986, coconut farmers, with the help of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, filed court cases to recover their investment. 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. The monies are already with the national treasury and cannot be spent without congressional approval or a new law.
Pangilinan warned that without proper legislation and government support, ‘’our coconut industry will surely fall especially if there are no more farmers who will pursue coconut farming as a livelihood.’’