Senator Grace Poe has pushed for the inclusion of qualified small farmers in the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) panel that would manage the disbursement of the multi-billion peso coco levy funds.
Poe, in a statement, said small coconut farmers should have a guaranteed representation in the PCA Board to make sure that they will actually benefit from the funds.
“Ito ay pera nila kaya sila rin dapat ang may pinakamalaking desisyon kung paano ito gagastusin para sa kanilang kapakanan at sa kabutihan ng industriya (This is their money so they should have the largest say on how this should used, for their welfare and the good of the coconut industry),” she said.
The Senate has begun plenary debates on the bill proposing the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund to facilitate the release and use of the P105-billion levy collected from them during the Marcos administration. The measure was vetoed by President Duterte during the 17th Congress for being “violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards”.
The bill also included provisions to strengthen the PCA Board — a separate measure that was also disapproved by Duterte.
During their debates, Poe asked Sen. Cynthia Villar, sponsor of the Senate Bill No. 1396, for a provision that would include more farmers in the PCA Board, “that the ones who will be considered as members from the coconut farmers will actually be the farmers who have owned three hectares or less for the past 10 years.”
“We are proposing that this be incorporated in the law to avoid a scenario where big-time coconut farmers will buy parcels of five-hectare lands and name the title under different persons for the sake of being able to comply with the faux small farmers definition,” she said.
“At the core of this bill are the coconut farmers and their dependents who have long been denied of what rightly belongs to them. We want a legislation that will show true justice at work for our farmers,” she pointed out.
Under the bill, the PCA Board would be composed of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Secretary of the Department of Finance (DOF), Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry; Administrator of the Authority; and only three members from the coconut farmers sector representing Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, who will be appointed by the President.
The bill also proposes to create a Trust Fund Management Committee comprised of representatives from the DOF, DBM, and Department of Justice. The DOF shall be designated as the Fund Manager.
If signed into law, the Bureau of Treasury would release an initial P5 billion every year for the Trust Fund.
Villar earlier explained that the amount was reduced from their previous proposal of P10 billion after the executive department relayed doubts on the PCA’s capability to implement the measure.
“This fund should reach the coconut farmers in need of scholarship for their children, those who get sick and those who need training for livelihood opportunities. It is vital that the fund be handled by people with knowledge and competence for the best interest of our coconut farmers,” Poe said.