MANILA— The Senate is close to passing a consolidated bill proposing the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund for efficient use of the multibillion-peso coconut levy fund to benefit some 2.4 million coconut farmers and the local coconut industry.
The fund is now estimated to have grown to at least P80 billion in cash, and billions more worth of assets, according to the Philippine Coconut authority (PCA).
The chamber closed the period of amendments Wednesday for Senate Bill No. 1396, re-filed by agriculture committee chair Sen. Cynthia Villar.
Once enacted into law, the measure will compel government to audit and conduct an inventory of all coconut levy assets for a year, and sell these over a period of 5 years. Immediately upon enactment, some P5 billion will be transferred to the trust fund, and another P5 billion to the PCA.
The proposed trust fund shall be intended for the following programs:
- shared facilities for processing
- farm improvement through diversification and/or intercropping
- development of hybrid coconut seed farms and nurseries
- empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives
- scholarships, health and medical program
- credit support through the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP)
- infrastructure development
- training of farmers in farm schools through the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)
- funding support for coconut planting and replanting
President Rodrigo Duterte had vetoed the measure in February 2019 over fears it may be "unconstitutional" and “lacked safeguards against abuses." On the same month, Duterte vetoed its twin bill on the reconstitution of the PCA.
In his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, Duterte urged Congress to pass the measure after Malacañang sent inputs to avoid another veto.
In the new bill, the trust fund management and disbursement will be implemented by the PCA, in accordance with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.
SB 1396 is a consolidation of bills filed by Villar, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and senators Francis Pangilinan and Imee Marcos.
It was Marcos' late dictator father Ferdinand Marcos who established the coco levy fund taxing coco farmers between 1973 and 1982, allegedly only to be used by his cronies for investments for their personal gain.
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure in next week’s session after senators asked for a final draft with the approved amendments.