Senate ratifies P105B coco levy fund

The Senate has ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the measure establishing the P105-billion coco levy fund.

In its session Wednesday afternoon, the Upper Chamber voted to approve the reconciled bill of Congress on the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.

Senator Cynthia Villar, sponsor of the Senate version of the measure and chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the distribution P105 billion trust fund will be managed by a reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

Villar said members of the panel agreed that a separate law shall be enacted to reconstitute the PCA board.

“We provided in the bill that the find will be managed, Mr. President, by a reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority. The lawyers advised us that we should file a bill to amend the PCA charter to make sure, that’s the legal way of reconstituting the PCA,” she said when asked by Sen. Francis Pangilinan to clarify a section of the Bicam-approved bill.

Earlier, Villar filed Senate Bill 1913, which seeks to strengthen farmer representation in the PCA, by putting six representatives from the coconut farmer sector in the 11-member PCA Board.

A similar measure was also filed in the House of Representatives, she noted.

“We tend to pass that bill, and that it will go with this law, so that everything will be in order,” Villar told Pangilinan.

After the ratification, however, Sen. Risa Hontiveros reiterated her opposition to the Bicam version of the coco levy fund. To recall, she voted “no” on the approval of the Senate Bill 1233.

Hontiveros said the Bicam version of the measure was “worse” than the Senate version for the supposed exclusion of coconut farmers owning five hectares of land and less from the beneficiaries of the trust fund.

“Itinanggal ang pagkiling sa maliliit na magniniyog na siya dapat maging benepisyaryo ng coco levy funds at mas nangangailangan ng ayudang pinansyal,” she said.

But Villar, in response to Hontiveros, said the bill on the reconstituted PCA board will address such concern.

Under the Bicam-approved bill, the P105 billion coco levy trust fund will be distributed every year at P5 billion for 25 years until it runs out.

The P5-billion annual fund shall be spent for facilities, scholarship program, empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives, farm improvements and health and medical benefits.

The PCA shall also receive an annual P10 billion budget to augment the funds for the coconut farmers. Villar earlier said 3.5 million coconut farmers are expected to benefit in the enactment of the measure.