Bicameral panel okays coco farmers’ trust fund

THE coconut-levy trust fund is a step closer to becoming reality after the bill reconciling the differences between the House of Representatives and Senate versions was approved by the bicameral conference committee on Wednesday.

After the bicameral version is ratified separately by the two chambers of Congress, President Duterte is expected to sign into law within the month the bill, which will be called Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, according to Sen. Cynthia A. Villar.

“We will just have to write [the bill] with all the bicameral changes and then it is okay. We have approved it in principle,” Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, told reporters on August 1.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the House is eyeing to ratify the bill on Monday. “Like today, there’s going to be a conference committee on the coco levy, so we hope to be able to finish that tonight, so hopefully it can be ratified on Monday,” Arroyo said.

Under the bicameral-approved bill, the P105-billion coconut-levy fund would be invested in government securities, such as Treasury bills, to earn at least 2 percent to 3 percent annually, according to Villar.

The fund will be managed by a “reconstituted” Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) instead of a separate committee, Villar added. The reconstituted PCA means that the board would be comprised of four government representatives, one industry representative and six coconut farmers.

The PCA will only be able to use P5 billion of the trust fund annually until the whole amount is wiped out.

“Right now the amount is P105 billion, and if you divide that by P5 billion that is 21 years. But that fund will still earn interest, so it would last about 25 years,” Villar said.

The trust fund will be used accordingly annually: 30 percent for shared facilities; 30 percent for farm development; 15 percent for empower of farmers organizations; 15 percent for scholarship and 10 percent of health benefits of farmers, according to Villar.

Aside from the trust fund, the bicameral version of the bill requires a P10-billion mandatory budget appropriation for the PCA annually.

“The P10 billion that will be given by the government for the coconut industry will be used [as follows]: 20 percent for infrastructure, 25 percent for shared facilities program,” Villar said.

“Then there’s also for planting and replanting [program]; the establishment of nurseries; for intercropping; for research and development and for creation of markets. Those are all indicated in the bill and that should be followed by PCA,” Villar added.

Villar said implementation of the law is expected next year.

The approval of the bill comes after President Duterte, in his third State of the Nation Address (Sona), urged the bicameral conference committee last week to convene as soon as possible to finalize the legislation that would finally allow the utilization of the coco levy fund.