Coco farmers trust fund bill gets final Senate approval

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 05 2020 04:19 PM

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat. File

MANILA - The Senate on Monday unanimously approved on final reading a bill that would create a trust fund for coconut farmers through the sale of coco levy assets in the country in the next half decade.

All 22 senators present in the October 5 session voted in favor of Senate Bill No. 1396 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act that seeks to return taxes collected from coconut farmers during the Marcos dictatorship.

"This measure is aimed at correcting these injustices and making sure that the injustice of the past will never be repeated," Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in plenary.

"Ang esensya ng coco levy fund bill... ay hindi lang ang kaunlaran ng industriya kung 'di pagtutuwid sa deka-dekadang kasalanan sa maliliit na magniniyog na pinagkuhanan ng buwis na walang pakinabang sa kanila," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

If signed into law, the government will be tasked to liquidate P75-billion worth of coconut levy assets in the next 5 years to create a trust fund for some 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 coconut-producing provinces.

Under the measure, the Bureau of Treasury will also be required to transfer the following amounts to the said trust fund:
- P10 billion after bill is signed into law
- P10 billion in the second year since bill was signed into law
- P15 billion in the third year
- P15 billion in the fourth year
- P25 billion in the fifth year

"Pera ito ng magniniyog na pinagkait sa kanila sa loob ng 40 taon," Pangilinan said.

"That's how long our coco farmers endured poverty. Mas maigi na sigurong maipasa natin ito kaysa wala o mabigyan ng suporta ang ating mga magniniyog," he said.

The trust fund will not be given as lumpsum dole outs to coconut farmers, but will be spent as follows:

- Planting and replanting of hybrid coconut seedlings and production of hybrid coconut seedlings (15 percent)

- Health and medical programs for farmers and their families (10 percent)

- Credit programs of the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines (10 percent)

- Infrastructure development to be implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways in coconut producing local government units (10 percent)

- Farm improvements through diversification and intercropping with livestock, dairy, poultry, coffee and cacao production (10 percent)

- Shared facilities for processing by the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech), to be given to cooperatives (10 percent)

- Training of coconut farmers and their families as listed in the coconut farmers registry in farm schools (8 percent)

- Scholarship programs for farmers and their families (8 percent)

- Research, marketing and promotion by the Bureau of Micro Small and Medium Enterprise Development under the Department of Trade and Industry (5 percent)

- Organizing and empowering coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives (5 percent)

- Research and production of hybrid coconut seedlings (5 percent)

- Crop insurance to be implemented by the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (4 percent)

Under the bill, the Secretaries of the Departments of Trade and Industry, Budget and Management Finance, and Science and Technology, as well as representatives from farmer groups from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao will constitute the Philippine Coconut Authority Board.

In 2019, Duterte rejected the creation of a trust fund for coconut farmers, saying it is "lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past."