With President Rodrigo Duterte scheduled to deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today (July 27), an agriculture lobby group is still looking for the P100-billion coconut levy fund that the country’s chief executive promised to release and distribute to farmers at least during his past two reports to the Filipino people.
In a statement, Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP) Chairman Emil Javier decried the 28-year delay of coco levy funds’ release.
The coco levy funds were the money that the Marcos administration collected from coconut farmers by overtaxing them, the group said.
“Our poor agricultural extension system has left us far behind countries like Taiwan and Thailand, which ironically implemented our technologies with effective extension,” Javier said.
The release of the controversial coco levy fund has been one of Duterte’s campaign promises in 2016 and was also repeatedly mentioned during his past SONAs.
During last year’s SONA, delivered on July 22, 2019, Duterte urged both Houses of Congress to pass a “more responsive version” of the proposed Coco Levy Bill, which sought to establish a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund that will be handled by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
“Our farmers, especially our coconut farmers, form a significant part of the basic sectors of society. It is from the toil of their hands that we put food on the table. It is my hope that we finally see this through,” Duterte also said in his 2018 SONA.
“I urge you, Congress, to convene the [bicameral] conference committee and pass at the soonest possible time the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund. I pray that you will do it,” he added.
At present, all the proposed laws in relation to the release of the coco levy fund still remained pending in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
CAMP is part of the Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA), which has asked Duterte to “rescue” the agriculture sector and finally address the challenges the sector is facing during today’s SONA.
Aside from CAMP, AFA is composed of other coalitions including Alyansa Agrikultura (AA), Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Fisheries, Inc. (PCAFI), Pambansang Kilusan ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), and Agri Fisheries 2025 (AF2025).
“Agriculture has always been a low priority in previous SONAs. During this critical pandemic time, agriculture must now be given its proper priority,” AFA said in a joint statement.
AFA argued that agriculture should be prioritized by the Duterte administration because though the sector’s direct contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is only 8 percent, with an additional 10 percent in food manufacturing and 15 percent in agriculture-allied services, the sector actually contributes 33 percent to the overall economy.
The group also said that the great majority of poor Filipinos are found in agriculture, primarily the farmers and fishermen.