Bam Aquino proposes trust fund for coconut farmers
MANILA, Philippines—It’s about time a trust fund was created out of the levies imposed on coconut farmers to enable them to develop the industry into an economic driver, Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV said in a bill he filed in the Senate.
As coconut farmers marching from Davao City reached the capital last week, Aquino filed Senate Bill No. 2467 calling for the setting up of the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund to spur rural development rehabilitation of the coconut industry.
“For more than 40 years, the coconut farmers have long been fighting for their rights, not just to have access to the coco levy, but to have the opportunity to develop their industry, and provide better lives for their families,’’ he said.
Aquino, trade committee chair, said that given the advances in farming technology and intercropping, harnessing the industry to address high demands for coco fiber, water and oil was a “huge possibility.”
“It is high time to change its narrative from one of the poorest sector in the country to a great economic driver and source of pride of the Filipino people,” he said.
Meeting the 71 marchers last Thursday, President Aquino, a cousin of the senator, vowed to certify as urgent a bill allowing coconut farmers to directly benefit from the P71-billion coco levy collected from them during the Marcos regime.
He agreed that only the annual interest income of the fund would be used, which was pegged at P3 billion from 2012 to 2014.
But pending its passage, the President was open to issuing an executive order ensuring that the coconut industry, especially small farmers, would enjoy the benefits of the fund.
The farmers trudged 1,700 kilometers in 66 days from Davao City on the 42nd anniversary of martial law on Sept. 21 to Manila to pressure the government into passing such a law.
The coconut levy was imposed by then President Ferdinand Marcos from 1973 to the early 1980s. Marcos appointed Eduardo Cojuangco as the administrator of the funds.
The government claimed that this gave Cojuangco and his associates the means to buy coconut trading firms, oil mills, a bank, and controling shares of stock in San Miguel Corp.
In SB 2467, Senator Aquino said the trust fund should be used for raising the productivity of coconut farmers, developing coconut-based enterprises, and implementing poverty-alleviation programs.
The goal, he said, was to rehabilitate and revitalize the industry by stimulating production and luring investment.
The bill seeks to modernize coconut farming and make coconut production globally competitive so that it becomes a vital source of income for the country, the senator added.
Aquino proposed that its initial capital come from the Coconut Industry Investment Fund-San Miguel Corp. (CIIF-SMC) block of shares, including, increments and other available funds.
The government shall reconvey these to the trust fund committee to be chaired by the sitting President, he said.
Apart from the initial capital, the trust fund will be composed of coco levy recovered assets, as well as grants, donations and transfers from public or private entities, he said.
The trust fund will be deposited in a reputable bank that would manage, use and account for this. The trust fund committee, which will include representatives from the coconut industry, will decide on the disposition, use and allocation of the fund.
Senators Cynthia Villar and Ralph Recto had earlier filed bills to create a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, and Coconut Levy Assets Disposition Act, respectively.
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