Sen. Cynthia Villar has allayed concerns that coconut farmers and the industry will not benefit from Senate Bill No. 1396 or the coco levy bill that the Senate has crafted and passed.
“It is wrong to say that coconut farmers are excluded in the proposed bill, in fact they are the core,” Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said in response to calls for the deletion of some provisions in the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund law in the Senate which provides for the distribution and disbursement of the P105-billion coco fund collected from the taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the Marcos administration.
Villar, who sponsored SB No. 1396, defended the measure from the claims of Coconut Industry Reform Movement Executive Director Joey Faustino who earlier said that the measure delegated the coco levy funds ahead of the roadmap for the coconut industry which would “lock up the funds to several different bureaucracies that would further disenfranchise the coconut farmers.”
Villar said that contrary to this, “the model presented by the proposed SB 1396 would in fact streamline the government programs to benefit the coconut farmers and their families.”
She explained that the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), as the sole agency in charge of the coconut industry, “will not be able to take on the challenge and successfully deliver the services and benefits of the coconut trust fund to the coconut farmers and their families in a brief and efficient manner.”
“The joint support and expertise of the other government agencies are needed to ensure that the envisioned lives for our coconut farmers are realized the soonest possible,” she said.
“The allocation of the fund to the identified programs underwent several consultations and studies to ensure that the coconut trust fund would truly benefit our coconut farmers,” she added.
Villar added that they also have to consider the points raised by President Duterte when he vetoed the version of approved by the 17th Congress last year.
Villar explained that the bill focuses on increasing the productivity of income of farmers; poverty alleviation, education, and social equity; and rehabilitation and modernization of the coconut industry.
“Sad to say that the provinces that are the leading producers of coconut are also among the provinces having the highest incidence of poverty in the country. This is attributed to low productivity, lack of direct access to markets, limited financial services, and losses to pests, diseases, and natural calamities,” she said.
“Information and technology will empower coconut farmers to get out of subsistence and escape poverty over time. And this is where the proposed SB 1396 comes into picture,” she added.
Villar likewise assured that coconut farmers will be represented in the management of the coco levy funds.
“With three seats in the (PCA) board to which they are entitled, they have a voice in the management of the affairs of the coconut industry.”
“Their role in the drafting of the development plan cannot be discounted as they shall be consulted before it is finalized. There should be no question that the only interest this bill looks into is their welfare,” she said.
“What is important is that all coconut farmers and workers and their families are listed in the coconut registry to be able to reap the benefits due them under the proposed bill.”
Under SB 1396, the government will be mandated to sell P75 billion of the coconut levy assets in the next five years to create a trust fund for coconut farmers, which will be maintained for 50 years.
The Bureau of Treasury shall be mandated 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.