By Camille A. Aguinaldo, Reporter
THE bicameral conference committee on Wednesday approved the proposed measure allowing farmers to benefit from the coconut levy funds collected by the government during the Marcos regime.
The proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Act seeks to convert P100 billion in coconut levy assets into a trust fund for farmers and the coconut industry. It was identified as among the priority bills of Congress by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).
About 3.5 million farmers are expected to benefit from the long overdue measure once enacted into law.
“This will serve as a foundation of our future in our continued quest for sustainable development, poverty alleviation and food security. Our farmers have long waited for the moment where they could enjoy the funds which are rightfully theirs,” Senator Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said in a statement.
She also told reporters that the committee adopted the provisions of the Senate version regarding a reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the body that would manage the trust fund..
Under the House version, the bill called for the creation of a Trust Fund Committee composed of five government officials and six farmer representatives.
“The Senate version was adopted and then it will be managed by a reconstituted PCA. No committee will be formed, just the reconstituted PCA,” Ms. Villar told reporters.
The PCA will be composed of a representative from the agency, Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), one coconut industry stakeholder, and six coconut farmers with two representatives each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Ms. Villar also said the trust fund will be invested in treasury bills for the PCA to spend on scholarships for children of farmers, health benefits, a shared facilities program, farm improvement programs to encourage self-sufficiency, and empowerment of coconut farmer organizations including their cooperatives. The bicameral panel set P5 billion as the annual amount to be spent from the coconut levy fund.
At least P10 billion will also be automatically appropriated as the yearly budget of PCA sourced from the General Appropriations Act for the development of the coconut industry. The amount will be spent on infrastructure, planting, replanting and establishment of nurseries, research and development, disease control and eradication, fertilization, new products and derivatives of coconut oil products, and credit through Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines.
The Senate panel included Ms. Villar and Senator Francis N. Pangilinan while the House of Representatives contingent was composed of ANAC-IP partylist Rep. Jose T. Panganiban, Jr., Quezon Reps. Danilo E. Suarez and Angeline Helen D. Tan, Bohol Rep. Arthur C. Yap, AAMBIS-OWA partylist Rep. Sharon S. Garin, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso L. Lobregat, Negros Oriental Rep. Manuel T. Sagarbarria, Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, Sorsogon Rep. Evelina G. Escudero, and BUTIL partylist Rep. Cecillia Leonila V. Chavez.