Poe wants legitimate small farmers to have significant voice in coco levy body
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Grace Poe is pushing for the guaranteed representation of legitimate small coconut farmers in the body that will be created to manage the multi-billion coco levy funds under a bill lawmakers are currently deliberating on.
The upper chamber is currently tackling in plenary the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, which seeks to provide for the utilization of the coco levy fund to benefit the country’s coconut farmers.
Poe said the bill should have provisions that would ensure that small farmers will have a “significant voice” in the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Board that would decide on how the funds would be used to benefit the coconut industry and farmers “long deprived of the money that rightfully belongs to them.”
“Can we have some sort of a provision, if ever we consider including more farmers to the decision-making body of any group, let’s say the Philippine Coconut Authority, that the ones who will be considered as members from the coconut farmers will actually be the farmers who have owned three hectares or less for the past 10 years,” Poe asked during her interpellation of the bill during Tuesday’s plenary session.
“We are proposing that this be incorporated in the law to avoid a scenario where big-time coconut farmers will buy parcels of five-hectare lands and name the title under different persons for the sake of being able to comply with the faux small farmers’ definition,” she added.
The measure seeks the creation of a Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund to be managed by a board that will craft plans on how to utilize the levy collected from coconut farmers since the 1970s.
This amount has now grown to an estimated P105 billion, Poe noted.
The coco levy fund bill was passed during the 17th Congress but was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte over its lack of “vital safeguards” which could “disproportionately benefit wealthy coconut farm owners” because the law did not have a limit on the covered land area for entitlement of benefits.
“At the core of this bill are the coconut farmers and their dependents who have long been denied of what rightly belongs to them. We want legislation that will show true justice at work for our farmers,” Poe went on.
“Ito ay pera nila kaya sila rin dapat ang may pinakamalaking desisyon kung paano ito gagastusin para sa kanilang kapakanan at sa kabutihan ng industriya,” she added.
(This is their money that’s why they should have a greater say on how these funds will be created for their benefit and the benefit of the coconut industry.)
Upon enactment into law, the bill proposes that the Bureau of Treasury release P5 billion for the trust and another P5 billion as initial allocation to the PCA, Poe explained.
The PCA, she said, will be strengthened under the bill to ensure the participation of farmers.
The measure also targets to create a Trust Fund Management Committee composed of representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Justice, she added.
Poe stressed that coconut farmers and their dependents should be able to benefit from the programs to be implemented using the trust fund through scholarships, health and medical benefits, training, farm improvement and projects leading to the empowerment of farmers’ organizations.
“This fund should reach the coconut farmers in need of scholarships for their children, those who get sick and those who need training for livelihood opportunities,” the senator said.
“It is vital that the fund be handled by people with knowledge and competence for the best interest of our coconut farmers,” she added. [ac]
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