Otso Diretso vows speedy return of coco funds
LUCENA CITY — Otso Diretso senatorial candidates on Friday vowed to speed up the return of the multibillion-peso coconut levy fund to the country’s coconut farmers once elected into office.
“I want the fund to become a trust fund so it will not run out,” former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said in an interview on the sidelines of the campaign of the opposition candidates here.
He said the fund should benefit the country’s small coconut farmers.
“And they will be the one to decide on how to use the fund and not the government people,” Hilbay said.
Hilbay and three other Otso Diretso senatorial candidates—civic leader Samira Gutoc, former Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada and election lawyer Romulo Macalintal— held campaign sorties here that included meetings with Quezon coconut farmers.
Quezon is a major coconut-producing province.
Its farmers were believed to be the biggest contributors to the coco levy fund which was forcibly collected from coconut farmers during the dictatorial regime of deposed strongman Marcos.
Unfulfilled Duterte promise
During the presidential campaign trail in 2016, Duterte, then Davao City mayor, had promised in Catanauan town that the funds would be distributed to coconut farmers within 100 days of his presidency.
Three years have passed but his promise has remained unfulfilled.
The fund, now with the government, is estimated to be around P100 billion.
Last February, Duterte vetoed the coco levy fund bill seeking to create a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers.
The bill had to go through the bicameral conference committee twice as the Palace raised issues with the composition of the council that will manage the fund and the lack of sunset provisions for the funding for coconut farmers.
When asked what could be the possible reason behind the President’s veto of the measure, Hilbay suspected that the multibillion-peso fund might have already been used by the Duterte administration.
“Maybe they had already used the money. They might need to borrow money again to help farmers,” Hilbay said.
Tañada suspected that someone close to the President might have used his influence to push Duterte to reject the bill.
“I think someone whispered to him,” Tañada said, but declined to name the names.
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