Nearly three weeks since the Coco Levy Act or Republic Act (RA) 11524 was passed, the reconstituted board of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has met for the first time to discuss the important things that need to be addressed prior to the actual release of the P100-billion coco levy fund.
Unfortunately, the inaugural meeting was conducted in absence of coconut farmers’ representatives.
A statement from PCA showed that the government representatives of the reconstituted board of the PCA already held its first official meeting on March 15, 2021, and that it was Agriculture Secretary William Dar, the PCA Board chairperson, who presided over the meeting.
By virtue of Republic Act No. (RA) 11524, otherwise known as the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, the PCA Board is now composed of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture as Chairperson; Secretary of the Department of Finance as Vice-Chairperson; Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management as Member; Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry as Member; Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology as Member; and Administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority as Member.
In addition to this, three coconut farmer representatives – one each from the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – are also supposed to join the PCA Board.
However, no one from the sector has been appointed by the President yet.
These farmer-representatives will be selected through a nomination and selection process in consultation with their respective organizations or associations.
It was only during the said meeting when the PCA Board approved “in principle” the general concept of the nomination and selection process for the farmer representatives in the Board.
“This concept shall further be referred to the farmer organizations nationwide for consultation through the regional and provincial fora already established by the PCA to get significant inputs from the farmers themselves before the detailed procedure is finalized,” PCA said.
Even before the RA 11524 was signed, the local farmers already expressed disappointment over some of the law’s provisions, including the one that requires the reconstitution of the PCA Board, which only gave coconut farmers three slots in the Board.
Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Eduardo Mora said that with such a setup, farmers will no longer get to decide on how the coco levy fund — the taxes imposed on coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies more than 40 years ago — will be used.
“We will just implement what they will ask us to do with our own money. With the proposed PCA board, we will only have three representatives – one each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – and if there’s a need to vote, we can easily be outnumbered,” he further said.
Former Quezon Representative Erin Tañada also said in August last year that the “majority of the PCA Board should be composed of coconut farmers”.
“If this wouldn’t be the case, then there’s no need to hurry passing such law,” Tañada said.
Under RA 11524, coconut farmers are also not part of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund (CFITF) committee, which is tasked to manage the investments to be made in the coconut industry using the coco levy fund.
This committee will be led only by authorized representatives from the DBM, Department of Finance (DOF), and Department of Justice (DOJ), based on RA 11524.
Nevertheless, PCA Administrator Benjamin Madrigal, Jr. assured the farmer-beneficiaries that the Authority is committed to meeting the deadlines set by the law to ensure the timely delivery of the benefits they so deserved in the implementation of the Act.
“With the leadership and guidance of the newly reconstituted and strengthened PCA Board, we are confident that transformative reforms toward the modernization and industrialization of the coconut industry with direct benefits to our dear coconut farmers envisioned in RA 11524 will finally be a reality,” Madrigal added.
During PCA Board’s inaugural meet, the management of PCA, the lead implementing agency of RA 11523, presented to the Board various action items that need immediate attention due to given timelines mandated in RA 11524, such as the proposed selection process for farmer representatives that need to be coordinated by the Board with the PCA management within 30 days.
PCA also discussed the need to complete the Coconut Farmers Registry within 90 days; the crafting of Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan (CFIDP) that needs to be submitted to the President for approval within 120 days; and the forging of Memorandum of Agreement between the PCA Board and government agencies involved in the allocation of funds and implementation of the programs within the same period.