Coconut farmers to ask PRRD to veto Coco Levy Act

Coconut farmers are coming up with a position paper that will formally ask President Rodrigo Duterte to veto Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund or the Coco Levy Act, which will pave the way for the release of the P100-billion Coco Levy Fund.

(MB FILE, Keith Bacongco)

Pambansang Kaisahan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Eduardo Mora said thousands of coconut farmers are soon set to convene so they can draft some sort of a position paper against the proposed Coco Levy Act.

“This is our direction. We will seek a meeting with OP and we will submit our position paper,” Mora told Business Bulletin.

It was just last month when the House version of Coco Levy Act was passed on third and final reading, while the Senate version of the law was passed in October.

But the word on the street now is that the House is keen to just adopt the Senate version of the law so that there’s no longer a consolidation process, which may take a longer time.

If this is true, the farmers group said this means the Coco Levy Act will just need the signature of Duterte in order to be passed into law. 

“They know that we will fight for our rights in the bicameral process and now there may not be a consolidation process,” Mora said.

The problem about both versions of the Coco Levy Act is that they lack a coherent over-all framework aimed at the strategic redirection and sustainable development of the coconut industry, said Federations of Free Farmers (FFF) Board Chairman Leonardo Q. Montemayor.

“The absence of a general strategy and its resultant priority activities is evidenced by both Chambers’ simplistic division of the Trust Fund – amounting to at least P5 billion yearly - into ten equal parts, each corresponding to a program by a specified government agency,” the country’s former agriculture secretary said.

Montemayor also lamented the absence of representation for small coconut farmers in the Management Committee tasked with setting the investment policy for the Coco Levy Trust Fund.

He likewise pointed out that while coconut planting/replanting, fertilization, and intercropping are already among the regularly funded programs of the national government, a major portion of the Trust Fund will be tapped for the same purpose.

The coco levy fund is the taxes collected from coconut farmers by the Marcos administration and its cronies from 1972 to 1981.  

In a separate interview, Joey Faustino, leader of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement, said that the coco levy funds and assets, based on the proposed Coco Levy Act, will not benefit the poor farmers "as expected" by weaning them from mere copra production. 

“Both management of funds and utilization, from planning to implementation, is purely run by the government with the farmers as mere recipients just like during martial law. It’s the same thing all over again,” he told Business Bulletin.

Faustino said that his group will likewise convene within the week to draft a letter asking Duterte to veto the said law.

The veto, he said, will be based on “legal grounds and a repeat of social injustice.”

In December, Agriculture Secretary William Dar made an appeal to coconut farmers to give the law a chance.

“My view is that maybe we should give it a chance. Let the two versions of the law be harmonized and let the law be implemented properly,” Dar said.

He also said that the immediate passage of the Coco Levy Act will help revive the country’s coconut industry, which is now “a sleeping giant.”

Reacting to Dar's statement, Mora only said “We don’t know Secretary Dar that much because he hasn’t reached out to us yet.”