Solons rue absent resource persons during hearing on coco levy trust fund law
MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers from a House of Representatives panel have called out government offices for not being able to send resource persons and show detailed reports regarding the use of the coco levy fund, saying that Congress would not be able to scrutinize data and confirm them.
During the House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture and food hearing on Tuesday, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas asked Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Administrator Bernie Ferrer Cruz why there are huge unutilized funds from the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.
The said panel is hearing the implementation status of Republic Act No. 11524 — the law which established the trust fund for coconut farmers.
“The work of the PCA is to really know if funds they need go to coconut farmers […], but it seems that the unutilized fund is so huge,” Brosas said in Filipino.
In response, Cruz said that the funds were only released in late 2022, or from September to November, giving the agency little time to distribute the cash assistance to coconut farmers as the end of the fiscal year neared.
“What happened is that funds were released just from September to November, and we know that by that time if you release funds between November or September, you can only do so much because it is already towards the end of the year, the end of our procurement period or planning stage,” Cruz said.
“I think farmers don’t want that projects would come as a surprise, or that projects would not be studied intently and, as a result, bear several problems,” he added.
When committee chair and Quezon 1st District Rep. Wilfrido Enverga asked Cruz as to how much of the assets are with the trust fund, the latter responded that he only has estimates — P80 billion in cash assets. For non-cash assets, Cruz said he is not sure.
Cruz then pointed to the Trust Committee, which is composed of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Finance (DOF), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) — prompting Brosas and Enverga to lament the absence of these government agencies.
Brosas said the Trust Committee’s presence is important as they can verify if the funds were indeed transferred late in 2022 and if the funds have been remitted back to the treasury.
“Because the trust fund management committee is not here, Mr. Chair, they are important in the hearing because we need to know even the cash and non-cash levy assets, the people need to know how much is available,” Brosas said.
“It is important Mr. Chair, for the briefing, that DOF, DBM attend the hearings and, of course, the Bureau of Treasury because we do not know — we want to check how much was utilized and how much was remitted back to them because the coconut farmers should have already benefitted from these funds,” she added.
“Definitely ComSec (Committee Secretariat), please note the agencies invited, to note that they really need to attend the next hearing,” Enverga noted.
The trust fund was derived from the coco levy funds — a tax imposed on coconut farmers during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. aimed at implementing reforms in the industry.
The said funds were sequestered after the Marcos regime was overthrown and had sat in limbo until Republic Act No. 11524, which established the trust fund, was signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2021.
Under the said law, the PCA will be in charge of crafting the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, which will “set the directions and policies for the development and rehabilitation of the coconut industry within 50 years.”
However, Cruz admitted that fund utilization was only at 34 percent.
Cruz also assured the panel that they would do their best to boost the utilization of funds in 2023.
“I’m not quite sure why the funds were disbursed late, but that’s the reason why our utilization is low, at more or less 34 percent. But Mr. Chair we assure the committee that for this year we will really make it happen that our coconut farmers benefit from the projects from the coco levy funds,” he said.