By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA) said on Saturday (Feb. 8) that a consolidated measure seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund has been submitted to the House committee on food and agriculture for its consideration and approval.
The chairman of the technical working group (TWG) that consolidated 16 coconut levy fund bills said the TWG has referred the consolidated bill to its mother committee, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga.
“The measure is finished at the TWG level. It has to be scheduled for the approval of the committee,” Garin, one of the principal authors of the bill, told the Manila Bulletin in an interview.
She said they are closely coordinating with the executive to ensure that the consolidated draft of the bill does not contain the controversial provisions that impelled President Duterte to veto the pro-farmers’ measure in February last year.
“We have been coordinating with the Executive. They have their own version and the House has its own version. We are reconciling that and we are in close coordination. Hopefully, what ever happened previously won’t happen again,” Garin, chairman of the House committee on economic affairs, said.
In early November last year, the TWG headed by Garin was convened to consolidate the 16 coco levy fund bills.
“This bill has been presented since the 10th Congress and such problem started in the 1960s, 1970s. This problem has been there for half a century already. This is our best chance to have this passed,” Garin said.
She said they are aiming to present to the plenary “something that will be acceptable to all of us.”
“What we are trying to do here is address the clamor of those who have been waiting for this for decades,” the House leader said.
Enverga, one of the principal authors of the bill, earlier said his panel will pass an “acceptable” measure that aims to address the veto message of President Duterte and the concerns of all concerned stakeholders.
In a letter addressed to the House of Representatives on Feb. 14 last year, President Duterte said the coco levy fund bill, which seeks the creation of a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers, “may be violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past.”
He said the creation of an “effectively perpetual” trust fund is in violation of a constitutional provision which provides that money collected from tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only, referring to Article IV Section 29(3) of the 1987 Constitution.
The President also opposed the broad powers given to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), particularly its authority over the sale, disposition, or dissolution of coco levy assets.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, one of the principal authors of the bill, earlier said the passage of the coco levy fund bill would be the Lower Chamber’s “expression of solidarity with the coconut farmers and their loved ones.”
“Now is the season for them to truly feel the assistance of a government that will bring bold solutions and swift actions for genuine change,” he said.
Cayetano’s bill seeks to declare the coconut levy assets a trust fund and provide for its management and utilization. It also seeks to authorize the Privatization and Management Office (PMO) to dispose of coconut levy assets.
Cayetano noted that in 2014, the Philippines’ share in the world coconut export was 49.4 percent with the country producing an average of 15.34 billion nuts per year.
“However, the coconut industry’s contribution to the economy has not been properly rewarded with appropriate investments either in the form of infrastructure or other form of support for coconut farmers,” he said.
The Bureau of Treasury reported to the Enverga panel that as of July 2019, the coco levy fund is pegged at P76.36 billion, while the coconut levy assets are worth P300 billion according to Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Reynold Munsayac.