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COCONUT INDUSTRY TRUST FUND CREATED – VILLAR

The Senate passed on third and final reading a bill that would create the coconut industry trust fund to finally allow farmers to directly benefit from coco levy funds collected by the government during the Marcos regime.

Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1233, or the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, was approved with nineteen affirmative votes, one negative vote from Senator Risa Hontiveros, and no abstention.

The measure was co-authored by Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Bam Aquino IV and Risa Hontiveros.

The bill was originally sponsored and authored by Pangilinan, who said he voted for the measure’s approval with reservation given the major amendments introduced to it, but added that he “remained hopeful that the bicameral conference committee would see the wisdom of the original SBN 1233.”

According to Villar, the bill would “address the decades-old issue surrounding the coconut levy fund and how it can be used for the direct benefit of 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country.”

Under the bill, the government would be mandated to “consolidate the benefits due to coconut farmers, especially the poor and marginalized, under various statutes and to expedite the delivery thereof, to attain increased farm productivity and income of coconut farmers through the rehabilitation and modernization of the coconut industry.”

To do this, the bill would create the new Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, which should be “used exclusively for the benefit of the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry,” in accordance with a new Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

Following amendments introduced by Recto, the said the trust fund would be managed by the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). The bill would also require that membership in the PCA Board be amended to include six (6) representatives from the coconut farmers – with two representatives each for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – to be appointed by the President.

The increased representation of coconut farmers in the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) “will ensure that the protection of farmers’ interest is the paramount consideration in the agency’s decision-making process,” Villar said.

The veteran legislator added that the bill included provisions that would “safeguard the P100-billion coconut levy funds composed of cash and assets and ensure increased income for all coconut farmers.”

The seasoned lawmaker said the bill would require the “investment of the trust fund only in Philippine government securities to ensure the safety of the fund and for assured returns.”

The bill said the trust fund must be utilized for coconut farm improvements, to encourage self-sufficiency among farmers (35 percent), programs for shared facilities (35 percent), scholarship programs (15 percent), and initiatives for the empowerment of coconut farmers’ organizations and their cooperatives (15 percent).

In relation, the bill would also mandate the automatic appropriation of no less than P10 billion to the annual budget of the PCA, to augment funds for farmers, increase the income of coconut farmers and support the agency’s developmental efforts.

“We are confident that with safeguards and reforms in place, we can finally see the day when poverty incidence is no longer the highest among our coconut farmers,” the lady senator said.

“Of the 8 million crop farmers in the Philippines, 3.5 million are rice farmers and 3.5 million are coconut farmers. They comprise 90 percent of all the crop farmers in the Philippines. So if you solve the problem of the rice farmer and the coconut farmer, we solve the problem of majority of our farmers,” she concluded.

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