New coco levy fund law upsets farmers
MANILA, Philippines — Coconut farmers were deeply disappointed that President Rodrigo Duterte failed to fulfill his promise by signing into law on Friday the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, or Republic Act No. 11524, which they said only legalized the theft of the P100-billion coco levy fund and its assets.
“I voted for him because of his promise,” said Maribel Luzara, leader of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. “But nothing really has changed. I doubt he cares about the farmers. I already stopped supporting him.”
Luzara was referring to Duterte’s promise during his campaign sorties in Quezon province that once elected, or within his first 100 days in office, he would “return the coconut levy fund to you at the soonest possible time.”
The coco levy fund refers to the monies levied on coconut farmers during the martial law years, supposedly for the development of the industry.
Industry leaders who have been championing the return of the fund to the coconut farmers for years did not hide their disappointment at the passage of RA 11524, citing several provisions that ran counter to the farmers’ interests.
In 2019, Congress passed a similar bill to manage the return of the fund to farmers, but Duterte vetoed the measure purportedly because it lacked “vital safeguards,” adding that he was still looking for an “honest man” to administer the funds.
But for Joey Faustino, leader of Coconut Industry Reform Movement, “the President vetoed the lesser bad [sic] version of the [bill] only to sign into law a comparatively worse version.”
No safeguards were added to the law, Faustino noted, adding that “more bureaucracies have been involved [in the process] while participation of farmers remained limited.”
“The general feeling in the organized farmer sector is that their money was stolen from them. The government used the law to seize the funds from millions of coconut farmers,” he said.
P70-B trust fund
The measure is expected to benefit some 3.5 million coconut farmers who own not more than 5 hectares of land and belong to the poorest sector in the country.
Under the new law, P5 billion of the P75-billion fund would be released to the Philippine Coconut Authority on top of its regular budget while P70 billion would be placed in a trust fund managed by the government, with little participation from farmers.
Under the new law, P10 billion will be transferred to the trust fund in the first year. Another P10 billion will be given in the second year, P15 billion in the third and fourth years, and P25 billion in the fifth year.
The trust fund will be augmented with the proceeds of the required sale of all coconut levy assets, in the name of the Philippine government, within five years.
But Centro Saka convener Omi Royandoyan said, “There is no guarantee that farmers will benefit from the coco levy fund and assets the way [the law] has been designed.”
The group has lobbied that the funds be used to support the capital needs of farmers, provide insurance coverage especially in times of calamities, link coconut production to existing industrial assets and equal farmer representation in all coco levy-funded assets.
—With a report from Leila Salaverria
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.