Senate approves on second reading coco farmers' trust fund bill

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 28 2020 06:36 PM

Coconut farmers from Bicol, Aurora, Quezon and Cagayan provinces held a protest in Mendiola in February 2013. The group pushed for the return and disposition of the multi-billion peso coco levy funds to coconut farmers. Lito Diaz, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The Senate on Monday approved on second reading a bill that would create a trust fund for coconut farmers, after President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a similar measure last year.

Several "modifications" - such as the inclusion of a panel that would monitor the gains of the trust fund - were added into Senate Bill No. 1396 or the proposed "Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act" to ensure that it would not suffer another rejection in Malacañang, Senate Committee on Agriculture chair Cynthia Villar earlier said.

"It's a really hard bill. But it is important sa ating mga farmers, kaya maraming salamat sa inyong lahat," Villar said in plenary after the chamber approved her bill on second reading after a week-long period of amendments.

Under the proposed measure, the government will be mandated to sell coconut levy assets in the next 5 years to create a trust fund for the 2.4 million coconut farmers in the country.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, senators Francis Pangilinan and Imee Marcos were also listed as co-authors of the bill.

The coco levy fund was created under the regime of Marcos' father - the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos - who taxed coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982.

The fund, which was supposed to generate a trust fund for the children of coconut farmers, was only used by Marcos' cronies for personal investments. 

Villar had been defending the bill in plenary since September 8, as senators pushed for several amendments to fine-tune the measure.

The senators also thanked Senate President Vicente Sotto III in jest for steering a "confusing" period of amendments for the bill last week.

"It's good that the presiding officer takes note of every line," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said.

"Naguguluhan na ako, ikaw on the dot pa din," Zubiri told Sotto.

"He's reading it line by line, more than us," Villar said.

As of 4 pm, the Senate has yet to make public a copy of the amended version of the bill.