Duterte wants more 'safeguards' on bill reconstituting PCA: Palace

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 10 2019 12:04 AM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte would like "more safeguards" on the bill reconstituting the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Malacañang said Saturday after the chief executive rejected the measure.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the PCA, which has been tasked to oversee the coco levy fund, was "set up like the Road Board," which Duterte ordered abolished over alleged corruption.

"The PCA Board, like the Road Board which disburses the Motor Vehicle User’s Charge, is given full authority to disburse P10 billion every year in perpetuity without a terminal date, and subject only to review by Congress after six years," he said.

Panelo said Duterte also cited as reason the oversight power of Congress over the PCA under the bill, which excluded the executive branch of the government.

"First, the P10 billion in annual appropriation for the development of an industry whose implementation is placed on an agency not required to seek approval from the Executive Branch is susceptible to corruption akin to creating pork barrel funds," he said.

Duterte also cited that the reconstituted PCA was given various functions "without checks and balances," according to Panelo.

"Such condition will diminish the ability of the Department of Justice, through the Office of the Solicitor-General in coordination with the Presidential Commission on Good Government to act on cases relating to coco levy assets," he said.

The President also opposed the inclusion of 7 members from the private sector in the 15-member PCA board, Panelo added.

"A receipt of P10 billion by the board from taxpayers' money, therefore, translates to permitting private persons to influence the disbursement of public funds," he said.

Panelo said Duterte's decision will "give Congress more time and opportunity to improve the formulation of the PCA and the distribution of coco levy funds."

In a statement Saturday, Sen. Cynthia Villar said she "hope[s] to be enlightened more on why the President believes the measure lacked 'vital safeguards' and will work with him to improve this bill."

'Ineffective and inutile'

Senatorial aspirant Erin Tañada, meanwhile, said Duterte's rejection of the measure renders "ineffective and inutile" the Trust Fund bill which seeks to assist some 3.5 million coconut farmers.

"It is like giving the decision to spend the farmers’ money back to the government and to the industry which caused the despicable plight of the coconut farmers in the first place," he said.

Martsa ng Magniniyog, a coalition of farmers organizations, said the President's decision favors those involved in the coco levy scam and not coconut farmers.

"Kung mayroon mang nakikinabang sa kanyang pag-veto, ito ang mga elitista na nanguna sa coco levy scam na silang naghahangad na huwag mapakinabangan ng mga maliliit at mahihirap na magniniyog ang coco levy," the group said.

The coco levy was a form of tax imposed on coconut farmers during the administration of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. 

The funds were supposed to be used for the development of the coconut industry, but farmers have yet to feel the return of their contributions.