The coconut industry roadmap that will be used as a guide in the disbursement of the P100-billion coconut levy fund is still being drafted, said a top official of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
“It is still on-going,” PCA Administrator Benjamin Madrigal, Jr. said in a text exchange, referring to the drafting of the said roadmap.
It was just last month when the House version of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund or the Coco Levy Act or the Coco Levy Act, House Bill (HB) 8136, was passed on third and final reading, while the Senate version of the law, Senate Bill (SB) 1396, was passed in October.
In December, however, House decided to adopt SB 1396 as an amendment to HB 8136, which will both pave the way for the release of the P100-billion coco levy fund — the taxes imposed on coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies more than 40 years ago.
This means that the Coco Levy Act will just need the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte in order to be passed into law.
The law requires the PCA to come up with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, which will serve as the ultimate guide in the utilization of the coco levy fund.
“In the performance of its functions, the PCA shall consult coconut farmers and their organizations, industry associations, civil society organizations, academe, government agencies concerned and other stakeholders in the coconut industry,” SB 1396 reads.
The problem with this is that the coconut farmers think it shouldn’t be the PCA who should draft the roadmap but them, said Rene Cerilla, policy leader of Pambansang Kilusan ng Samahan ng mga Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) and a farmer-leader from Lopez, Quezon.
Cerilla, as well as the leaders of other coconut farmer groups, also questioned some provisions of the Coco Levy Act such as the annual allocation of portions of the coco levy fund to several government agencies, some of which have had no participation in coconut industry development at all.
According to farmers, the annual allocations from the coco levy fund to several government agencies will “lock up the funds to several different bureaucracies that would further disenfranchise the coconut farmers.
Based on the farmers’ groups interpretation of SB 1396, the annual allocation of coco levy fund will be shared by the following agencies: PCA as the lead agency tasked to handle the fund; Department of Agriculture (DA); Department of Science and Technology (DOST); Department of Trade and Industry (DTI);Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA); Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK); Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH); and Commission on Higher Education (CHED); among others.
Such interpretation is in line with the utilization of the trust fund based on the actual provisions of SB 1396, which includes the following allocation: “shared facilities for processing (10 percent); farm improvement through diversification and/or intercropping such as projects on livestock, dairy, poultry, coffee, cacao production (10 percent); development of hybrid coconut seed farms and nurseries, to encourage self-sufficiency (10 percent); and empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives (10 percent).
The allocation also includes the provision of scholarship program (10 percent); health and medical program, ten percent (10 percent); credit provision through the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) (10 percent); infrastructure development (10 percent); training of farmers in farm schools thru the Technological Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) (10 percent); and planting and replanting (10 percent)”.
Right now, the PCA is making sure that the programs indicated either in the roadmap and the list of future expenditures for coco levy fund is different from the agency’s annual General Appropriations Act (GAA), Madrigal said in a previous interview.
Groups of coconut farmers are also coming up with a position paper that will formally ask Duterte to again veto the Coco Levy Act, said Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Eduardo Mora.