By Rodolfo Andal
CABINET Secretary Karlo Nograles hailed as “a historic piece of legislation” the measure creating the PhP100 billion coco levy trust fund after the Senate and House of Representatives agreed on a unified version of their respective bills, noting that “the decades-long fight of coconut farmers to directly benefit from their toil and hard work is nearing positive completion.”
The bill, known as the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, was among the priority bills pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte. The coco levy fund traces its origins to taxes imposed on coconut farmers’ products in the Seventies during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos. It is now estimated to have grown to around more than PhP100 billion.
“The fund’s history is strewn with misuse, abuse and mismanagement. Generations of Filipino coconut farmers and their families have suffered greatly because of it. Congress is now rectifying the mistakes of the past. We’re putting into place a comprehensive mechanism that manages the fund and allocates resources to further develop the coconut industry,” Nograles said.
The Cabinet Secretary explained that under the measure, a reconstituted and strengthened Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) shall handle the fund which consists of 76 billion pesos in Treasury and escrow accounts and an estimated 30 billion pesos in assets.
“These shall be used to improve the plight of coconut farmers and to push our coconut industry further forward. The unified Senate and House bills provide for the release of PhP5 billion annually to the PCA on top of the 10 billion pesos provided by the General Appropriations Act.”
Allocations are assured, Nograles noted, for the following programs: shared facilities, scholarships, empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and cooperatives, farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency and health and medical benefits. The Cabinet Secretary clarified that a related bill reconstituting the PCA gives farmers greater representation in the government body, giving farmers six seats in the 11-member PCA board.
“More than the value of the funds, the significance of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act is the correction of previous wrongs related to the coco levy fund’s use and management. The President was all along determined to see this measure through, and we’re grateful that Congress shared the same sense of urgency and historical duty to finally address the matter of the coco levy fund,” Nograles further stated.
Nograles, who assumed the Cabinet Secretary post last November 5 and was former Chair of the Committee on Appropriations at the lower house, was specifically directed by the President to work on the passage of the piece of legislation. The former Davao Congressman had pushed for the crafting and implementation of a Coconut Industry Road Map in coordination with the Department of Agriculture.
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