One year and five months since he vetoed the proposed law that would have paved the way for the release of the P100-billion coconut levy fund, President Rodrigo Duterte has left it up to Congress anew to fulfill the campaign promise he made to coconut farmers in 2016.
But despite the vague order, Agriculture Secretary William Dar is hopeful that the fund – the money that the Marcos administration collected from coconut farmers by overtaxing them – could be finally released this year after 28 years.
“I will not make any suggestion [on the release of coco levy fund]. I will leave it to Congress to decide,” Duterte said during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
It was in February last year when Duterte vetoed the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act or the Coco Levy Act, which would have created a P100-billion trust fund that would be managed by Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), an attached agency to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The law aims to restructure the PCA board, which would include representatives from the PCA, DA, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and coconut industry, including coconut farmers’ representatives for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Upon vetoing the bill, Duterte said the proposed law lacked safeguards and that its provisions “do not reflect our ultimate goal of accelerating the further utilization of coco levy assets and funds for the benefit of our marginalized coconut farmers and the coconut industry”.
During his SONA last year, the President urged both Houses of Congress to pass a “more responsive version” of the law, which has not been fulfilled even until now.
On Tuesday, sans specific instructions from the President on how to go about with the proposed Coco Levy Act, Dar still expressed his optimism about the release of the coco levy fund and said it would be “realistic” to think that it will happen within this year.
He also said that this time it will be different because there’s already a “high level of enthusiasm” among lawmakers to legislate the bill. Dar vowed to work with Congress too.
According to Dar, the DA already identified four areas where the coco levy fund should be spent, namely productivity enhancement projects; the provision of social protection programs for coconut farmers such as insurance and health benefits; clustering of coconut farmers and turning them into entrepreneurs; and infrastructure developments in the coconut industry.
Dar estimated that there are more than 3 million coconut farmers who will immediately benefit from the fund.
Over the past two years, PCA has undergone more than two management transitions, which started when it was first revealed that the agency was chosen to lead the disbursement and utilization of the controversial fund.
In February last year, former PCA Administrator Romulo de la Rosa and the rest of the PCA Board submitted their courtesy resignation at the Office of the President ahead of the implementation of Coco Levy Act, which called for a reconstitution at their agency.
Duterte has then ordered outgoing Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lieutenant General Galileo Kintanar Jr. to take over the agency. For some reasons, however, Kintanar’s appointment didn’t push through and five months later, he appointed lawyer Gonzalo Duque as the new administrator of PCA.
Duque was still Social Security Commission (SSC) Commissioner at that time. He is the brother of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Duque’s appointment also didn’t push through and PCA is now led by former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr..
It was just in January this year since Madrigal secured PCA’s top post, just four months since his retirement as AFP Chief.