The Senate passed on third and final reading Monday the bill that would facilitate the release and disposition of the coco levy funds.
The proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund law was unanimously approved on final reading by members of the Senate with 22 affirmative votes and no negative votes or abstention.
Previously approved in the 17th Congress, it was re-filed and amended to avoid another veto of President Duterte due to supposed constitutional issues and lack of safeguards.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform and principal sponsor of the bill, said she hopes for the swift enactment of the law as concerns that caused the veto of the former version of the bill have all been addressed.
“Sana itong batas na ito, ‘pag naging batas, ay magdala sa ating (I hope this bill, if signed into law, will bring our) coconut farmers to middle class status as soon as possible. Lahat tayo ay umaasa na mabibigyan ng justice (We are all hoping that will give justice to) ang ating coconut farmers, with this law,” Villar said during the plenary session as she thanked her colleagues.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said he voted “yes with reservations” on the coco levy bill as the chamber did not favor his proposal to include a farmer representative and the Agriculture Secretary in the panel that would manage the trust fund’s investment.
Pangilinan says, however, that passing the measure is better than delaying the release of the P105-billion coco levy funds to coconut farmers who have been waiting for its benefits almost 50 years. Senator Risa Hontiveros also shared Pangilinan’s position, saying farmers should have be allowed more representation in deciding how to disburse the coco levy funds.
Sen. Richard Gordon said he also “relunctantly” favors the approval of the bill as he raised a concern on the capability of the designated government agencies in handling the trust fund and properly delivering the benefits to its beneficiaries.
Under Senate Bill No. 1396, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund shall be created and managed by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) based on a development plan approved by the President.
The Trust Fund shall be maintained for a period of 50 years.
The measure mandates the government to sell P75 billion of coconut levy assets in the next five years to create a trust fund for coconut farmers in the country.
Immediately after the enactment of the bill, the Bureau of Treasury shall transfer P10 billion to the trust fund; P10 billion in the second year; P15 billion, third year; P15 billion, fourth year; and P25 billion in the fifth year.
Of the Trust Fund, P5 billion shall be allocated and disbursed as follows:
• 15 percent for planting and replanting of hybrid coconut seedlings and production of hybrid coconut seedlings by the PCA;
• 5 percent for research and production of hybrid coconut seedlings by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD);
• 8 percent for the training of coconut farmers and their families as listed in the coconut farmers registry in farm schools through the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) to be shared equally;
• 5 percent for research, marketing and promotion by the Bureau of Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development under the Department of Trade and Industry;
• 10 percent to be shared equally for farm improvements through diversification and intercropping with livestock, dairy, poultry, coffee and cacao production by the National Dairy Authority and the Department of Agriculture; Native Animal Program; and High Value Crop Program to be divided equally;
• 10 percent for shared facilities for processing by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech); to be given to cooperatives. If there’s no cooperative in the town, it will go to LGUs;
• 5 percent for organizing and empowering coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives under the Cooperative Development Authority;
• 10 percent to be shared equally for the credit programs of the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines;
• 10 percent for infrastructure development to be implemented by the, Department of Public Works and Highways in coconut producing LGUs;
• 8 percent for Scholarship programs for farmers and their families to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education;
• 10 percent for health and medical programs for farmers and their families to be implemented by agency created by the Philippine Coconut Authority, for this purpose;
• 4 percent for crop insurance to be implemented by the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation;
The PCA Board shall be reconstituted to compose the Secretaries of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Budget and Management Finance, and DOST and PCA; and three farmer-representatives from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The bill defines small farmers as those who own not more than five hectares who belong to the poorest sector in the country.
A Trust Fund Management Committee shall also be created — composed of representatives from the finance, budget and justice departments —to be in charge of the strategy for investing the trust fund.
Villar earlier said the measure is expected benefit the about 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 coconut producing provinces.