DA celebrates signing into law of Coco Levy Act

Published February 28, 2021, 1:54 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has welcomed the move of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to sign Republic Act No. (RA) 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act (Coco Levy Act).

(MB FILE, Keith Bacongco)

According to the agriculture chief, the enactment of the law will pave way for the efficient use of the P100-billion coconut levy fund to uplift the livelihood of millions of farmers and sustain the development of the country’s coconut industry.

“On behalf of millions of coconut farmers and their families, we thank President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and our distinguished legislators for their continued guidance and strong support to revitalize the coconut industry,” Dar said.

Dar’s statement came after KILUS Magniniyog (KM), composed of thousands of coconut farmers, accepted the law’s passing “with deepest grief.”

“With deepest grief the KILUS Magniniyog (KM) accepts the passing of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, RA 11524. Apparently, social justice on the controversial Coconut Levy issue still remains elusive after more than 40 years of struggle for meaningful benefits by the coconut farmers,” KM said in a statement.

“Let this be a lesson for all of us, coconut farmers – and a warning to the entire country: be wary of those who promise us everything, and those who present themselves to be on our side, but are absent when we need them the most,” it added.

To recall, coconut farmers have been asking for a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte since late last year so they can air their concerns about the Coco Levy Act, which they said contains provisions that are unfavorable to them and to the coconut industry.

RA 11524 mandates the creation of a 50-year Coco Levy Trust Fund, as provided under a coconut industry development plan that is yet to be formulated by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), an attached corporation under the Department of Agriculture (DA). When crafted, the plan has to be approved by the President.

The new law also reconstitutes and strengthens the PCA that is tasked to craft and implement a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan (CFIDP).

Under RA 11524, the PCA Board will be chaired by the DA secretary and vice-chaired by the secretary of finance (DOF). Other board members include the respective secretary of departments of budget (DBM), science and technology (DOST), and trade (DTI); PCA administrator; and only three members from the coconut farmers sector, representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

Dar also said that with ensured funding of P75 billion in the next five years, he said the Coco Levy Act is a historic “gamechanger” that will pave the way to modernizing and industrializing the Philippine coconut sector.

“This usher in a new policy that will set in motion big reforms in the coconut industry using efficiently the proceeds of the coconut levy for the benefit of 2.5 million coconut farmers and their families, and the coconut industry in general,” he added.

To formulate the CFIDP, the PCA will be given an allocation of P5 million.

For his part, PCA administrator Benjamin Madrigal said in preparation for the enactment of RA 11524, the agency underwent an organizational transformation to make it into a more efficient, credible, and responsive institution in addressing the needs of coconut farmers and the challenges confronting the industry.

For its part, KM said that at first glance the law provides no trustor-trustee relationship as it identifies the government as sole manager and decision-maker in handling the recovered coco levy funds and assets, which serve as “capital of the trust fund, not even on account of mere transparency to its trustor and beneficial owners, the coconut farmers from whose toil the coconut levies were exacted from.”

“In addition to the woes, the coconut farmer sector shall now have to deal with several different bureaucracies in order to avail of their benefits,” KM said.

“This had put the cart before the horse which, to a great degree, dampens the potentials of the fund being optimized to ultimately graduate the farming communities from being mere raw material suppliers to inclusion into the value chain of coconut products and by-products,” it added.

Based on RA 11524, the annual allocation of coco levy fund will be shared by the following agencies: PCA as the lead agency tasked to handle the fund; 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.

These agencies are then ordered to take into account the distribution of the annual allocation of the coco levy trust fund, which shall be used for the construction of 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); empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives (10 percent); among others.

KM is composed of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Makabayang Mambubukid,  Kalipunan ng Maliliit na Magninyog ng Pilipinas, Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Mambubukid sa Pilipinas , Coconut Industry Reform Movement, Inc. (COIR), Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, among others.