THE unnumbered substitute bill seeking to establish the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund may be approved at committee level before Congress adjourns for its Easter recess on March 13.
“There are still many issues… because this is the first day that it was presented to the committee and I think the chairman (Rep. Wilfrido Mark M. Enverga) would like to have greater consultations. But yes we are aware (that it needs to be passed) but you know, this is a collegial body. We want to make sure that the members are also aware of the specific provisions. It’s a complicated issue and I think one hearing is not enough,” AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon S. Garin told reporters on the sidelines of the House committee on agriculture and food hearing Tuesday.
Ms. Garin said one sticking point is the definition of a “marginalized farmer” and the allocation of the trust fund.
“Right now (the discussion are about) who are the beneficiaries, the definition of the farmer. What is a marginalized farmer?” she aid, adding that the committee has not yet discussed annual funding levels.
“Ang proposal dyan is five billion per year (The proposal is for P5 billion a year) over two of three years and then later 5% (of the trust fund) per year. So those are the points where things have deviated from the version of the Speaker. So we have to discuss it,” she said.
She said the panel plans to add social benefits for farmers, which were not included in the reference bill filed by Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano.
“Dapat may scholarships. (There needs to be scholarships) We cannot give them the money but at least they can benefit directly,” Ms. Garin said.
The bill calls for a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan to “increase incomes of coconut farmers, improve farm productivity, alleviate poverty, promote social equity and rehabilitate and modernize the coconut industry towards farm productivity.”
The bill also seeks to “reconstitute and strengthen” the Philippine Coconut Authority to “ensure the participation of coconut farmers in the crafting and implementation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.”
The measure also seeks to create the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund “for the ultimate benefit of the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.”
The coconut levy was imposed by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos to develop the industry. Its funds were tied up in court for years because they were diverted.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte vetoed an earlier version of the bill in February 2019. According to the President’s veto message, the bill does not reflect “our ultimate goal of accelerating the further utilization of coco levy assets and funds for the benefit of our marginalized coconut farmers and the coconut industry.”
At the hearing, Mr. Enverga said that he hopes that the panel will come up with a measure that is acceptable to all stakeholders and to the Executive. He said the goal is to avoid another veto. — Genshen L. Espedido