Coco Levy bill may lapse into law next week

Published February 26, 2021, 2:15 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act or Coco Levy Act, which will pave the way for the release and the utilization of the P100-billion coco levy fund, will lapse into law next week.

This is 30 days since the enrolled copy of the Coco Levy Act has been sent to Malacanang on January 29, 2021, based on the bill’s legislative status on Senate’s website.

Joey Faustino, leader of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement, said coconut farmers haven’t heard any word yet from the Office of the President (OP) regarding their appeal for President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Coco Levy Act.

Moreover, OP has not granted coconut farmers’ request for a meeting with Duterte so they can air their concerns about the proposed Coco Levy Act.

“[Regarding the meeting that we requested] it’s negative. But we sent a copy of our letter to OP to agencies where the enrolled bill can possibly be sent to,” Faustino said in a text message.

The other government offices and agencies that supposedly received the coconut farmers’ appeal to veto the Coco Levy Act are the Presidential Management Staff, Office of the Executive Secretary, Department of Finances (DOF), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Coconut farmers likewise didn’t get any response from these agencies, Faustino said.

Nevertheless, Faustino said that Kilusan para sa Ugnayan ng mga Samahang Magniniyog (Kilus Magniniyog), an organization of several coconut farmers’ groups in the country, decided to “reserve comments until action or inaction by OP” before March 1, the date of when the Coco Levy Act shall lapse into law.

It was in late last year when House decided to adopt Senate Bill (SB) 1396 as an amendment to House Bill (HB) 8136, which will both pave the way for the release of the coco levy fund, the taxes imposed on coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies more than 40 years ago.

As this happens, Kilus Magniniyog also sent a letter to Duterte, appealing to veto the Coco Levy Act because of its unfavorable provisions.

The letter was coursed through Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Director for Basic Sector Coordinating and Advocacy Service John Lana.

(MB FILE, Keith Bacongco)

In the letter, the group of coconut farmers asked to have a dialogue with the President regarding the forthcoming release of the coco levy fund.

Allowing coconut farmers or planters who own more than five hectares of land is one of the provisions of the Coco Levy Act that farmers are opposing.

Ireneo Cerilla of Kilus Magniniyog, who is also a farmer in Quezon, said this contradicts one of the reasons why Duterte vetoed the first draft of the Coco Levy Act in the first place.

To recall, the Coco Levy Act was first passed in 2019 but Duterte vetoed it because it lacked safeguards and that its provisions “do not reflect our ultimate goal of accelerating the further utilization of coco levy assets and funds for the benefit of our marginalized coconut farmers and the coconut industry”.

Duterte said at the time that the absence of a limit on a covered land area for entitlement to the benefits of the trust fund may disproportionately benefit wealthy coconut farm owners more than the smallholder farmers.

The coconut farmers’ group also said the provision of the Coco Levy Act to divide the annual coco levy fund to different government agencies is in contrast with the establishment of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, which should serve as a guide as the fund’s utilization and should be drafted in consultation with coconut farmers.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), which will be tasked to handle the coco levy trust fund, is the agency drafting the roadmap.