By Carmelito Q. Francisco, Correspondent
MATI CITY, Davao Oriental — Proposed legislation that will establish the coconut trust fund and provide interventions for the industry’s development could be passed and signed into law before the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, according to Senator Cynthia A. Villar.
Ms. Villar, speaking to the media on the sidelines of Davao Oriental province’s 51st founding anniversary on Sunday, said the bicameral committee is expected to take up the Senate and House of Representatives versions of the measure in the coming days.
“I see no huge difference between the two versions. The bicam is expected to submit the final form to President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte even before the SONA for his signature,” according to Ms. Villar, one of the bill’s authors and chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food security.
The approved Senate version is Senate Bill No. 1233, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, while its counterpart in the House is House Bill 5745, An Act Creating the Coconut Industry Trust Fund.
The senator said farmers in Davao Oriental, one of the country’s major coconut producers, would be among those expected to benefit from the longstanding measure.
“(The proposed law) has two fund sources,” she said, the coconut levy fund and a P10 billion annual allocation from the national government.
The P75 billion coconut levy fund was collected during the administration of the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
“The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is mandated to prepare a registry of all the coconut farmers in the Philippines within six months after the passage of the law and that coconut registry will serve as the list of those who will benefit from the fund,” she said.
Davao Oriental produces an average of one billion nuts a year from about 157,000 hectares, based on data from the provincial government.
In December 2012, the province was devastated by typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) with about six million coconut trees destroyed.
The proposed trust fund is intended to improve farm production through the provision of financial and technical support as well as shared service facilities. Part of the money will also be allocated to scholarships for coconut farmers’ children.
Ms. Villar said the P10 billion annual fund from the treasury will be managed by the PCA “for research, planting and re-planting, intercropping, fertilization as well as in providing (more) shared service facilities and coconut laboratories.”
The intercropping program will mainly involve coffee and cacao.
“With coffee and cacao, (farmers) will earn more than from coconut alone,” Ms. Villar said.
The senator said she is also pushing for the establishment of farm schools in every town or city to help growers expand production knowledge and management skills.