Though the road toward the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund is still long and complicated, with two pending bills still needed to be passed in both houses of Congress before President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise can be finally fulfilled, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is already busy preparing for the eventual return of the coconut farmers’ money.
PCA Administrator and ex-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. said his agency is now doing everything on their part to come up with the needed “documents” that will convince lawmakers to finally pass the proposed Coco Levy Act.
The coco levy fund, which came from the taxes imposed on coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies, is estimated to have grown to around more than P100 billion by now. It consists of a P76-billion fund stuck in the Bureau of Treasury and an estimated P30 billion in assets.
In the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act or the Coco Levy Act, a P100-billion trust fund would be created and managed by PCA, an attached agency to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
This proposed bill was vetoed by Duterte last year, saying it lacked safeguards.
“The Congress said we need to come up with two documents [before they can re-file the Coco Levy Act]. One is the Coconut Industry Roadmap and the other is the programs for coco levy – where we will spend the money,” Madrigal said over the phone.
“If you’re asking if we are prepared to handle, [the answer is] we are now preparing and managing things. What they’re [Congress] is asking is where we will use the money and we are coming up with that,” he added.
Madrigal said the PCA hopes to finish the roadmap as well as come up with the list of programs where the coco levy fund will be spent all by the end of this year following consultations with stakeholders.
“We are targeting to finish these two documents in the next few months. If that will be approved within this year, the [release of] coco levy fund will follow,” he said.
When asked if the coco levy fund will be finally released this year, he only said “there are conditions we need to fulfill first”.
In 2018, the Bicameral Committee agreed that the coco levy fund will be released to PCA at P5 billion annually until it runs out, which is estimated to be within 25 years.
The proposed measure provides for the utilization of the fund as follows: 30 percent for the development of shared facilities program; 15 percent for scholarship program; 15 percent for the empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives; 30 percent to encourage self-sufficiency among farms; and 10 percent for provision of health and medical assistance for farmers.
However, before the funds can be used, the Congress must first pass a separate law reconstituting the governing board of the PCA to be composed of six farmer-representatives, four government representatives, and one industry representative.
“This is a twin bill – the Coco Levy Act and the PCA re-organization. So we are also preparing for that. The PCA Board should already be multi-sector and we should have a team for strategic communications,” Madrigal said.
A day after Duterte told Congress to prioritize the Coco Levy Act during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), Agriculture Secretary William Dar said it would be “realistic” to think that the release of the coco levy fund will happen within this year.
Coconut Industry Roadmap
The problem, Madrigal said, is that the PCA needs to make sure that the programs indicated in either the roadmap and the list of future expenditures for coco levy fund is different from the agency’s annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“We are working for that as well as on our capacity building. So hopefully it will be approved by the end of this year so that in the middle of next year, the fund will be finally released and we can already work on our capacity-building,” Madrigal reiterated.
Madrigal said the PCA is updating the earlier draft made for the Coconut Industry Roadmap, which will now include modernization efforts for the coconut industry and programs that will be implemented over the next two decades.
Before Duterte delivered his SONA, Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP) Chairman Emil Javier decried the 28-year delay of coco levy funds’ release.