Senate passes coco levy trust fund bill on final reading

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MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Monday approved on third and final reading a measure seeking to create a trust fund for the country’s coconut farmers, more than one year since a similar bill was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Voting 22-0, senators passed Senate Bill No. 1396 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act.

Under the proposed law, the trust fund will be managed by a board that will craft plans on the utilization of the levy collected from coconut farmers, which was estimated to have grown to over P100 billion.

The collection of levy from coconut farmers started in 1971 during the term of late dictator former president Ferdinand Marcos. After the fall of the Marcos regime, various suits were filed to give the fund’s control to coconut farmers.

In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that the coco levy funds are public funds.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate agriculture committee and principal sponsor of the bill, earlier expressed confidence that the enactment of the proposed law will be swift as concerns that caused the veto of the former version of the measure has been addressed.

During the 17th Congress, the President vetoed the coco levy bill over its lack of “vital safeguards” which could “disproportionately benefit wealthy coconut farm owners” because the law did not have a limit on the covered land area for entitlement of benefits.

If enacted, the measure will require the Bureau of Treasury to transfer P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year; P10 billion in the second year; P15 billion in the third year; P15 billion in the fourth year; and P25 billion during the fifth year.

Some P5 billion from the trust fund will be used upon enactment of the law for the following programs:

• 15 percent for planting and replanting of hybrid coconut seedlings and  production of hybrid coconut seedlings by the Philippine Coconut Authority

•  5 percent for research and production of hybrid coconut seedlings by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD);

•  8 percent for the training of coconut farmers and their families as listed in the coconut farmers registry in farm schools through Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Agricultural Training Institute to be shared equally;

•  5 percent for research, marketing, and promotion by the Bureau of Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development under the Department of Trade and Industry;

•  10 percent to be shared equally for farm improvements through diversification and intercropping with livestock, dairy, poultry, coffee, and cacao production by the National Dairy Authority and the Department of Agriculture; Native Animal Program; and High-Value Crop Program to be divided equally;

•  10 percent for shared facilities for processing by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech); to be given to cooperatives. If there’s no cooperative in the town, it will go to LGUs;

•   5 percent for organizing and empowering coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives under the Cooperative Development Authority;

•   10 percent to be shared equally for the credit programs of the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines;

•   10 percent for infrastructure development  to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways in coconut producing LGUs

•   8 percent for Scholarship programs for farmers and their families to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education;

•   10 percent for health and medical programs for farmers and their families to be implemented by an agency created by the Philippine Coconut Authority, for this purpose;

•   4 percent for crop insurance to be implemented by the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation

JE


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