By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday adopted a concurrent resolution that will request the President to recall the coconut levy trust fund bill to the bicameral conference committee so they could introduce major amendments to the bill.
House Bill No. 5475 and Senate Bill No. 1233 sought to put the P100 billion coconut levy assets into a trust fund to be utilized for coconut farmers and the coconut industry. The proposed measure hurdled the bicameral conference committee on Aug. 1 and was transmitted to Malacañang for signature on Sept. 19. It has been identified by the Legislative Executive Development Council (LEDAC) as among the priority measures of Congress.
In an interview with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri said he suggested the bill’s recall during the senators’ meeting with President Rodrigo R. Duterte last Monday after learning that he may veto the proposed measure.
“Last night we had a meeting with the President to avert a possible veto of a major legislative measure which is the coco levy fund use. Malacañang was about to veto this landmark measure that will provide guidelines on how to utilize the coconut levy funds,” he said.
“As Majority Floor Leader, I offered a solution. And my solution was: we will recall the approved bicameral conference committee report and the enrolled copies to Malacañang and reconstitute the bicam and move for its reconsideration,” he added.
According to Mr. Zubiri, some Cabinet Secretaries disapproved that majority of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the agency tasked to manage the fund, were private individuals. The proposed measure provides the PCA board to be composed of a representative from the agency, the 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.
“Although the fund is the fund of the farmers, it is entrust(ed) to government. (So), they’re treating it like government funds. Therefore, the majority composition of the (PCA) board should be from government (agencies),” he said, noting that this would be addressed in the bicameral conference committee set on Tuesday afternoon.
He said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) also pointed out that the bill lacked a sunset provision in the P10-billion allocation meant to develop the coconut industry, which will be sourced from the General Appropriations Act. From the coconut levy funds, P5 billion will be spent yearly to programs for coconut farmers’ welfare.
Mr. Zubiri said the bill’s recall could have been prevented if the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), headed by Secretary Adelino B. Sitoy, had closely monitored the proposed measure and notified Congress of Malacañang’s apprehensions when it was still being deliberated.
Nevertheless, he said the President committed to sign the proposed measure into law after the needed amendments are introduced.
“Yes, he said (he will sign the bill) if it is amended because he did not want to anger farmers. He just wants the bill to be constitutionally compliant as far as they’re concerned,” Mr. Zubiri said.