House eyes passage of consolidated bill creating coco levy fund

Published June 30, 2020, 4:06 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The House Committee on Food and Agriculture is eyeing to pass a consolidated and “acceptable” measure seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund next week before Congress goes on a month-long Christmas break.

Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, chairman of the panel,  said the authors of 16 coconut levy fund bills are in the process of scrutinizing the consolidated draft presented by the technical working group (TWG) chaired by AAMBIS-OWA partylist Rep. Sharon Garin.

“So far, the consolidated draft from the TWG is set for approval by the authors. We are hoping we can pass it before the break,” he said in an interview.

He assured that the consolidated draft of the bill does not contain the controversial provisions that prodded President Duterte to veto the pro-farmers’ measure in February this year.

“The controversial provisions were not included, addressing the veto message of the President,” Enverga, one of the principal authors of the bill, said.

In a letter addressed to the House of Representatives on February 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.”

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.

Enverga assured that the coco levy fund bill that will be passed by his panel is “acceptable” to all stakeholders.

In early November, 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.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, one of the principal authors of the bill, described the coconut industry as one of the great economic pillars of the nation.

He said 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 as a trust fund and provide for its management and utilization. It also seeks to authorize the Privatization and Management Office (PMO) to dispose of the coconut levy assets.

Cayetano noted that in 2014, the Philippines’ share in the world coconut export is at 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, 363, 780,049.43

The coconut levy assets are now worth P300 billion, according to Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Reynold Munsayac.