Bicam panel approves reconciled version of the coconut levy trust fund bill

The bicameral conference committee on the bill creating the P100-billion coconut levy trust fund has reconciled the disagreeing provisions on the versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food and head of the Senate panel, said the bicameral conference committee on the disagreeing provisions of Senate Bill 1233 and House Bill 5745 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act agreed adopted a reconciled version of the bill which they will now submit for ratification by both houses of Congress.

“Today marks the end of the long and grueling journey of enacting a law which will ensure the full utilization of the coco levy funds. This symbolizes a new beginning for all our 3.5 million coconut farmers and their families,” Villar said.

“This will serve as a foundation of our future in our continued quest for sustainable development, poverty alleviation and food security. Our farmers have long waited for the moment where they could enjoy the funds which are rightfully theirs,” she added.

The Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act was among the priority legislative measures pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address in July 23.

The Nacionalista Party Senator said the bill “includes provisions that would safeguard the approximately P100 billion coconut levy funds composed of cash and assets and ensure increased income for all coconut farmers such as investment of the trust fund in Philippine government securities to ensure the safety of the fund and for assured returns.”

The fund will be managed by the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) which will be composed of one representative from the PCA, Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Budget and Management; one coconut industry stakeholder; and 6 coconut farmers with two representatives each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

“Gusto namin reconstituted PCA para isang overhead na lang. Kasi mahirap iyong maraming committee, maraming gastos. So sini-simplify namin iyong management, para less ang overhead para lahat ng pera mapupunta for the benefit of the coconut farmers,” Villar told reporters after the 1-hour meeting of the bicam committee.

Instead of putting a fixed term on the life of the fund, both panels agreed to allow the existence of the bill until it runs out. The panel also set P5 billion as the amount to be spent from the coco levy fund yearly. This is on top of the automatic appropriation of no less than P10 billion to the annual budget of the PCA which will be sourced from the General Appropriations Act.

The P5 billion fund will be spent for the following programs: shared facilities, 30%; scholarship program, 15%; empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives, 15%; farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency, 30%; and health and medical benefits, 10%.

The P10 billion allocated by the national government will be spent for the development of the coconut industry. This will be earmarked for the following programs: infrastructure, 20%; planting, replanting and establishment of nurseries, 20%; intercropping, 10%; shared facilities, 20%; research and development, disease control and eradication, 10%; fertilization, 5%; new products and derivatives of cococut oil products, 5%; and credit through LandBank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, 10%.

During the bicam meeting, Villar was joined by Sen. Francis Pangilinan in the Senate panel while the contingent from the House of Representatives was composed of Representatives Jose Panganiban, Jr., Danilo Suarez, Arthur Yap, Sharon Garin, Celso Lobregat, Manuel Sagarbarria, Edcel Lagman, Evelina Escudero, Angelina Helen Tan and Cecilia Leonila Chavez.

“I am optimistic that by the passage of this bill, our coconut farmers will not be left behind with the changing times and would be empowered to push through towards the next century,” Villar said.