By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA) appealed to her colleagues and concerned government agencies on Tuesday (Feb. 18) to immediately resolve all their concerns on the proposed substitute bill seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund to ensure the approval of the pro-farmers measure before Congress adjourns sessions on March 14.
The chairman of the technical working group (TWG) that consolidated 16 coconut levy fund bills made the appeal as she presented the substitute measure to the House committee on food and agriculture, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga for its approval.
“I appeal to the members that if you have problems with the substitute bill, let us try to resolve it as soon as possible and let us try to remember the reasons why it did not pass the previous Congress para smooth sailing tayo (so that we will be smooth sailing),” Garin said in the first deliberation on the substitute bill.
She said the panel should urgently act on the measure, citing the “diminishing” coco levy fund, which is now pegged at P80 billion.
“This would be the greatest legacy we can make if we could finish this in this term, then that would be the best gift we can give to our farmers. This is not about giving back money. This is not about adding more projects to our districts. This is about the call for social justice of our farmers,” the House leader said.
Garin said she is hopeful that the bill will be approved by the Enverga panel before the March 14 adjournment.
She noted that the panel decided not to pass the measure on Tuesday afternoon to consult all concerned stakeholders.
“There are still many issues [to be threshed out]…because this is the first day that it was presented to the Committee and I think the Chairman would like to have greater consultations. But, yes, we are aware this should pass, but you know, this is a collegial body. We want to make sure that the members are also aware of the specific provisions. This is complicated and I think one hearing is not enough, maybe [we need] two hearings,” she said.
In the deliberations, the panel members zeroed on the definition of “farmers” and “marginalized farmers.” Also discussed was the creation of the yearly P5 billion trust fund.
“We added the social benefits kasi wala ‘yun sa reference bill (it is not included in the reference bill), so we added the social benefits so dapat may scholarships. We cannot give them the money but at least they have a direct benefit,” Garin said, referring to House Bill No. 10, authored by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
Garin said the controversial provisions that prodded President Duterte to veto the pro-farmers’ measure in February last year have been scrapped. “We have coordinated with the Executive and concerned stakeholders. We have been very conscious of the provisions vetoed by the President.”
Enverga earlier assured the public that his panel will pass an “acceptable” measure that aims to address the veto message of President Duterte and the concerns of all stakeholders.
In a letter addressed to the House of Representatives on Feb. 14, 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.”
The Chief Executive 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.
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 Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Reynold Munsayac said the coconut levy assets are worth P300 billion.