Farmers ask Duterte to veto coco levy fund bill
A bicameral committee will take up the coco levy trust fund bill after the House of Representatives finally passed on third and final reading its version of the long-awaited and much-debated proposed law on Monday.
Both the Senate and House versions, however, are being vehemently opposed by industry groups which claimed they do not give priority to the interests of smallholder coconut farmers.
In fact, the Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) has asked President Duterte to again veto the proposed bill “as a Christmas gift to the industry.”
“It’s better for us that the President veto the measure and we’ll just wait for the next administration. That is our only hope. That is better than to see the funding shared among government agencies. The money would just be stolen and wasted aimlessly,” said PKMP chair Eduardo Mora.
Among the provisions in the House version being opposed by industry groups was the proposal to allocate part of the coco levy fund to agencies, including the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Commission on Higher Education.
According to Joey Faustino, chair of the Coconut Industry Reform Movement (CIRM), these agencies “do not even have any participation at all in the industry,” arguing that the money will be put to better use if it is directed to the needs of the coconut industry.
No farmer participation
Omi Royandoyan of Centro Saka also stressed the lack of farmer participation in both the House and Senate bills, as well as the lack of limitations on potential beneficiaries.
This meant that even plantation owners would be entitled to the benefits of the bill against the groups’ proposal to impose a 5-hectare limit.
In addition, only P5 billion of the P75-billion fund—excluding the assets—would be released to the Philippine Coconut Authority with the rest to be placed in a trust fund managed by the government, without the participation of farmer representatives.
Faustino said the House bill was “silent on the obligation of the state to reconvey the monies in full” to coconut farmers as stated by the Supreme Court, adding that the measure was “simply a hoax and bound to benefit only the government.”
Uphold SC decision
“The House and Senate versions are basically [pushing for the] privatization of both funds and the assets,” Royandoyan noted. “We have forwarded our recommendations to uphold the Supreme Court decision that the fund must be ‘owned by the government in trust for the coconut farmers …’ We need all the assets to make farmers competitive and not dependent on coconut traders.”
The CIRM said it would also submit a letter to the Office of the President before Christmas to express the sentiments of its members.
Faustino said the proposed bills did not reflect the promise made by Mr. Duterte during his presidential campaign which was to return the billions of pesos to its real owners—the smallholder coconut farmers.The coco levy fund has an estimated value of P100 billion, including the assets. It has been sleeping in the government’s coffers for decades.
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