THE CONSULTATIONS being carried out on the draft implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Republic Act (RA) No. 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act should include public hearings, according to the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).

FFF Chairman Leonardo Q. Montemayor said in a virtual briefing Tuesday that coconut farmers and other interested parties were only asked by the Department of Finance (DoF) to submit their comments on the draft IRR between May 27 and June 3.

“This should be cleared up. The DoF posted in its website that there will be a public consultation. I think this means that you receive position papers, and then virtual or actual public hearings will be conducted after,” Mr. Montemayor said.

“It is still not clear if the DoF will conduct that sort of consultation. We see this as an act of gross disrespect to the sector. The law is very clear. It is for the benefit of the coconut farmers,” he added.

On May 27, the DoF announced that it is conducting a public consultation to prepare the draft for the IRR of Sections 9 to 11 of the law and solicited public comment.

“This law will set in motion reforms in the coconut industry and provide efficient utilization of the trust fund in accordance with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan for the benefit of 2.5 million coconut farmers and their families, and the coconut industry in general,” the DoF said in its announcement.  

Asked to comment, Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Sherina A. Alvarez said in an e-mail that the law does not require a public hearing before the IRR is issued and implemented.

Ms. Alvarez cited Executive Order No. 297 or the Administrative Code of 1987, specifically Book 7 Chapter 2 Section 9 on public participation which provided that “if not otherwise required by law, an agency shall, as far as practicable, publish or circulate notices of proposed rules and afford interested parties the opportunity to submit their views prior to the adoption of any rule.”

“We have complied with this requirement by posting the draft IRR in the DoF website and soliciting comments from the public and other stakeholders,” Ms. Alvarez said.

“We wish to point out that the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is mandated to submit the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan not later than July 12, 2021. The IRR must already be in effect prior to July 12 to ensure smooth implementation of the plan,” she added.

RA 11524, signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Feb. 26, allows coconut farmers to benefit from taxes collected from them during the Marcos years, which were instead diverted towards the purchase of corporate assets for the gain of Marcos associates. The law creates a Trust Fund Management Committee which includes representatives from the DoF, Department of Budget and Management, and the Department of Justice.

The law designates the DoF as the Trust Fund Manager with responsibility for portfolio management.

According to the FFF, the fund is now estimated at P100 billion worth of cash and non-cash assets.

Under the law, the Bureau of the Treasury is required to transfer P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year; P10 billion in the second year; P15 billion in the third year; P15 billion in the fourth year; and P25 billion during the fifth year. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave