Pangilinan expresses mixed feelings about new coco levy fund law

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 02 2021 03:38 PM

Farmers from the Southern Tagalog province protest in front of the Philippine Coconut Authority in Quezon City on Jan. 15, 2019, calling for the return of about P100 billion in coco levy funds to small coconut farmers and heirs and the development of the coconut industry. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Sen. Kiko Pangilinan on Tuesday expressed reservations about the passage of a coco levy fund law that he said may run counter to farmers' interests.

Interviewed on ANC, the principal author of the measure in the Senate said some provisions were changed.

"Yes, I have mixed feelings about the law. Having said that, we will guard, we will be vigilant [and] we will continue to see how this is going to be implemented," he said.

Among his concerns is the composition of the Philippine Coconut Authority, which will only have 3 members from the coconut farmers sector, representing Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Majority of the members are from government agencies.

For Pangilinan, the trust fund committee should have been composed mainly of farmer-representatives in order for them to have a say on how the multibillion-peso fund will be used.

Though the law is "imperfect," the senator said he looked forward on how it is going to be implemented to "address the injustice and the lack of support for our coconut farmers."

"The coconut industry continues to be lagging behind. The main crop is still copra, which is really very low in terms of value-adding," he said.

"The coconut farmers are the poorest. They are poorer than rice farmers. They earn anywhere between P15,000 to P20,000 on copra a year," he added.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act or Republic Act 11524, which seeks to uplift the lives of some 3.5 million farmers and sustain the development of the country's coconut industry.

The coco levy fund came from taxes imposed on coconut farmers' products by late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies. The funds collected is estimated to have grown to around more than P100 billion.

The new law directs the Bureau of Treasury to transfer from the accumulated coconut levy at least P75 in the next 5 years to the CFITF.

To date, the Philippines ranks as the world’s second-largest producer and number one exporter of coconut products. However, the coconut sector contributes 4 percent only to the gross value-added in agriculture.

Among the major reasons for declining productivity in the coconut sector are dwindling areas and low yields, the Department of Agriculture had said.

Data from the DA-PCA show that total area planted with coconut has been declining through the years. In 2018, some 3.6 million hectares were planted with about 347 million bearing trees that yield an average of 44 nuts per tree annually.

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