Coconut farmers’ trust fund bill approved on 2nd reading at the Senate

Published September 28, 2020, 8:05 PM

by Mario Casayuran

The Senate finally approved on second reading Monday the once-vetoed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund bill following weeks of deliberations and fine- tuning.

“Pagkatapos ng mahabang panahon, maibibigay na rin sa mga magniniyog ang para sa kanila. Kahit na hindi naisama ang ilang mga probisyon sa aming panukala sa final version at pakiramdam ko ay watered-down ang ilang mga probisyon na naipasa, mas maigi nang meron kaysa wala para mabigyan na ng suporta ang mga magniniyog,” said Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, principal author of the measure. (After a long time, coconut farmers will get what they deserve. Although some of my provisions were not included in the final version and I feel that what was approved was watered-down, it is better than none at all to give support to coconut farmers.)          

“Itutulak na lang natin ang posibleng pag-amyenda sa batas at maibalik ang mga probisyon na tinanggal sa susunod na mga panahon kung makita natin na mas magiging mabuti ito para sa kanila,” he added. (We will push for possible amendments in the law and return some provisions that were deleted when the time comes.)         

Earlier, Pangilinan, together with fellow Minority Senators Franklin M. Drilon and Risa Hontiveros, sought to include a farmer representative, along with a representative from the Department of Agriculture (DA), in the Trust Fund Management Committee. But the Senate voted against it.         

The committee shall be responsible for setting the investment strategy of the trust fund, including the management of the estimated P76 billion in cash, disposition of the estimated P30 billion in other assets, as well as other funds or assets still pending before the courts that may be reconveyed to the government.        

“We respect the decision of the body, but we strongly believe that our coconut farmers should be involved in all aspects of the decision-making process in the management of the coconut levy funds. It is, after all, their money; the blood, sweat, and tears of our coconut farmers,” Pangilinan said.        

The Trust Fund Management Committee under the current version of the Senate bill is composed of representatives from the Departments of Finance, Budget and Management, and Justice. Other key provisions of Senate Bill 1396 are as follows:
·      Defining coconut farmers as owners or leaseholders of coconut farms that are not more than 5 hectares, tenants who till or supervise the cultivation of the coconut farms, or farmworkers or laborers;
·      Preparation of a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan that shall set the directions and policies for the development and rehabilitation of the coconut industry within 50 years;
·      Creation of a Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund;
·      Reconstitution of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Board to be composed of the Secretary of Agriculture as the Chairperson; Secretary of Finance as Vice Chairperson; Secretaries of Budget and Management, Science and Technology, and Trade and Industry; PCA Administrator; and three small farmers’ representatives of the coconut farmers sector (one each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao);
·      Annual allocation of the trust fund available for disbursement shall not be less than P5 billion per year but which can be more if the funds permit;
·      Distribution of the annual allocation from the trust fund as follows:
–      20 percent: Development of hybrid coconut seed farms, and nursery for planting and replanting;
–      Eight percent: Training of farmers and their families;
–     Five percent: Research, marketing and promotion;
–      Four percent: Crop insurance;
–      10 percent: Farm improvements through diversification and/or intercropping;
–      10 percent: Shared facilities for processing;
–      Six percent: Organizing and empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and cooperatives;
–      10 percent: Credit programs;
–      10 percent: Infrastructure development, which will include prioritizing the use of coco coir in the DPWH’s construction of roads and other applicable projects;
–      Eight percent: Scholarship program;
–      10 percent: Health and medical program       

The Senate is set on Monday to finally approve the measure on third and final reading.        

However, the version of the bill at the House of Representatives is still pending at the committee level.         

“The coco levy trust fund bill is a priority because it seeks to end over four decades of injustice and poverty of our coconut farmers from whom the levy was extracted. Itong batas na ito ay isyu rin ng katarungan para sa mga ninakawang magniniyog,” Pangilinan said. (This measure is an issue of justice for coconut farmers who had been victims of robbery.)