Farmers score ‘exclusive’ coco fund law
Romulo Tapayan remembers marching with his fellows from Davao all the way to Manila in 2014, in the hope that their act of protest will move the government to finally release the coconut levy fund to its rightful owners—small coconut farmers like themselves.
The fund, which includes physical assets, has been idle for over 40 years.
Six years after that historic march, the law that will allow the use of the P100-billion fund is close to being passed. The Senate has approved the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act on third and final reading.
The Department of Agriculture described the proposed legislation as a “good development” long awaited by Filipino coconut farmers. But certain farmers’ groups as well as lawmakers are disappointed.
While all 22 senators approved the passage of the measure, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros voted “yes with reservations” because it excludes farmer representatives from the trust fund committee that will decide on how the coconut levy fund will be utilized.
Moreover, there will only be three seats for farmers—one each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—in the 15-member board of the Philippine Coconut Authority.
Centro Saka executive director Romi Royandoyan said that “Filipino coconut farmers should be included in all levels of discussion for the management, utilization and disposition of the levy assets.”
The fund, which President Duterte has described as “sacred money,” includes P75 billion in cash held by the Bureau of Treasury and P30 billion in property.
Centro Saka cited the Supreme Court’s ruling that the coconut levy fund is owned by the coconut farmers: “In case the Duterte administration forgets, the [fund] is owned by the government in trust for the coconut farmers. They are mere stewards for the fund, safekeeping it for the future generation of farmers.”
The Kalipunan ng mga Maliliit na Magniniyog ng Pilipinas said there should be real representation of small farmers in the trust fund committee, which would otherwise be dominated by economists and bank executives.
Pangilinan proposed the inclusion of Agriculture Secretary William Dar to bolster the voice of farmers but this was rejected by Sen. Cynthia Villar, who said the committee would focus on financial matters.
Said Hontiveros: “It is important [that small coconut farmers] occupy all spaces where decisions are being made on the money that is owed to them.”
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