By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Food and Agriculture formed Monday a technical working group (TWG) that would consolidate the 16 bills seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.
During its first deliberation on the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act Monday, the panel, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverrga created the panel following the motion made by AN WARAY partylist Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel, vice-chairperson of the committee, and one of the principal authors of the bill.
The TWG will be chaired by AAMBIS-OWA partylist Rep. Sharon Garin, one of the 20 principal authors of the coconut levy bills.
Garin said they would exhaust all means to ensure that the bill would be approved within this year.
“Everybody is in agreement that this has to be passed as soon as possible. We work hard that it can be passed in the level of House within the year,” she said.
She said they would jumpstart the TWG meeting once they receive the official position papers of concerned government agencies.
“We have to wait for the position papers of the different agencies. We would like to speak with the Executive, Cabinet Secretary or PLLO (Presidential Legislative Liaison Office) to ask the final version of the Executive, so we can compare it with the versions of the different authors,” Garin said.
“Hopefully, the PLLO can formulate their version so we can compare, so we can have similar versions, both Senate, House and Executive,” she said.
The House leader said they will likely have TWG meetings during the break. Congress is set to adjourn its sessions for its first recess on October 4.
During her sponsorship speech, Garin exhorted colleagues to pass the bill, which will be “one of the biggest legacies of the 18th Congress.”
“Let us work together to make sure within this Congress, this bill will be passed. The farmers have long been waiting for this,” she said.
She said the House can work with the Executive and concerned stakeholders to come up with a comprise measure and have it immediately approved.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., one of the authors of the bill, proposed that the Enverga panel should “start considering proposals from the Executive” to avoid any possibility of presidential veto.
The proposed Act creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund was among the nine bills vetoed by President Duterte during the 17th Congress.
“Basically, the President vetoed the bill because of the lack of vital safeguards. I think that simple message was addressed in my bill,” Villafuerte said.
He said House should swiftly act on the bill, lamenting that the farmers are suffering from a “double whammy” following the low palay (unhusked rice) and copra (dried coconut meat) prices.
“Nadouble whammy na po ang farmers (Our farmers have suffered from a double whammy). I am requesting that marathon hearings for this bill be held because our 3.5 million coconut farmers badly need this,” the House leader said.
During the hearing, Director Eduardo Marino of the Bureau of Treasury disclosed to the Enverga panel that as of July 2019, the coco levy fund is now pegged at P76, 363, 780,049.43
While, the coconut levy assets are now worth P300 billion, according to Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Reynold Munsayac.
During the hearing, the Commission on Audit (COA) said it is currently conducting an audit on the coco levy funds.
Aside from Garin and Villafuerte, Quezon Rep. Aleta Suarez, Isabela Rep. Ian Paul Dy, Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, Bayan Muna partylist Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat, and PBA partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles also batted for the passage of the bill.