Coco levy trust fund bill hurdles second reading at Senate

Published September 28, 2020, 6:14 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate approved on second reading Monday the bill that would create the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.

Senate Bill No. 1396 is one step closer to hurdling the upper chamber following its second reading approval.

The measure was amended to include the reservations of the executive department and prevent another veto of the coco levy bill. To recall, President Duterte rejected in February last year a similar bill passed in 17th Congress for supposedly being “violative of the Constitution and lacking in vital safeguards.”

The creation of the trust fund would facilitate the release of coco levy funds collected from farmers during the Marcos administration. It was estimated to be at P105 billion.

The disbursement will be managed by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) based on a development plan approved by the President.

During the period of amendments, Senator Cynthia Villar, sponsor of the measure, reduced to 50 years from the initial 99 years the period for maintaining the trust fund.

The Bureau of Treasury shall release the coco levy fund and assets to the trust fund in staggered amounts within five years.

Meanwhile, an initial P5 billion shall released “directly” to the PCA for the disposition of the coco funds. The bill states that the amount given annually to the PCA shall not be lower than P5 billlion.

According to Villar, the coco levy fund shall be used for the development of hybrid coconut seed farms and nurseries; training of farmers in farm schools and scholarship programs; farm improvement; marketing and selling of coconut products; shared facilities for processing; credit provision thru the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines; as well as for the empowerment of farmers groups and cooperatives, health and medical programs for coconut farmers, and the construction of farm-to-market roads in coconut-producing provinces of the country.

The bill also amends the composition of the PCA Board with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary as chairperson and the Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary as vice chairperson. The PCA Board shall approve the disbursements from the trust fund.

Members of the PCA would include the secretaries of Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry and the PCA administrator.

Three representatives from the coconut farmers sector, one each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, shall also be part of the PCA Board. Duterte did not favor the inclusion of six farmer representatives in the board.

A Trust Fund Management Committee shall also be created — comprised of representatives from DOF, DBM, and Department of Justice — to be in charge of setting the investment strategy of the trust fund.

Senators earlier thumbed down the proposed amendment of Sen. Francis Pangilinan to also include the DA and a farmer representative in the Trust Fund Management Committee.

Villar earlier expressed confidence that the new version of the coco levy bill will not be vetoed by Duterte this time. The President had called for its passage in Congress during his fifth State of the Nation Address.

“The bill was re-filed with some modifications, taking into consideration the inputs being suggested by the executive branch of government so it will not be vetoed again. We are confident that it will already be enacted into law, given the President’s support,” Villar said last July.