Group revives law requiring higher coconut content in soap

Published August 27, 2020, 9:02 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

While the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is busy promoting the use of coconut to make ethyl alcohol for sanitizers and disinfectants, a group is now asking the government to revive a law that requires soap and detergent makers to use a significant amount of coconut-based chemicals in their products.

During a webinar organized by Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Evelina Patino, president and chief executive officer of United Coconut Chemicals, said the re-implementation of Executive Order (EO) 259 could help boost domestic demand for locally produced coconut oil production.

EO 259 was implemented in 1987 to “rationalize the soap and detergent surfactant industry” as well as “promote and expand the utilization of chemicals derived from coconut oil (CNO) and for other purposes.”

At that time, former President Corazon Aquino said the law could help benefit millions of coconut farmers by increasing the demand for their products as well as help protect the environment.

The law specifically requires the use of CNO-derived locally produced surfactants in all detergent formulations starting from 20 percent up to 60 percent after three years of the law’s implementation.

However, citing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a legal agreement between countries that is meant to promote international trade, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) decided to stop the implementation of EO 259 in 2000.

At that time, Philippine Oleochemical Manufacturers Association (POMA) disputed the decision, saying that EO 259 is an environmental law.

The Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) also argued that under the World Trade Organization (WTO), “a country is allowed to put in place measures that are designed to protect the environment and human health.”

Patino said the failure to implement the law, which would have created a new market for CNO, resulted in the shutdown of oleochemical plants in the country and the loss of as much as 150,000 metric tons (MT) of CNO consumption.

It also resulted in the increase in the imports of petroleum-based detergent raw materials, she said.

If EO 259 is back, Patino said the country’s coconut oil consumption will increase by up to 65,925 MT by 2023.

Right now, PCA is busy advocating the use of coconut in the making of ethyl alcohol, but according to Patino only 130,000 MT to 140,000 MT of CNO are being used to make disinfectants and sanitizers right now.

For her part, DTI Undersecretary Rafaelita Aldaba agreed that there is a need to review EO 259.

“Some of the efforts [to revive this] have been in the DTI since 2015. Our focus now is the development of industries. We used to have a different mindset,” she added.

To support this, she said there’s a need to empower coconut farmers to grow their production and be able to deal directly to processing companies.