Duterte signs into law the creation of Coco Levy Trust Fund

Marje Pelayo   •   March 2, 2021   •   249

MANILA, Philippines  – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a legislation creating a trust fund for the country’s coconut industry and its workers.

Republic Act No. 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act was crafted to develop the coconut industry using recovered coco levy assets, which were declared state-owned by the Supreme Court (SC) less than 10 years ago.

The new law mandates the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to craft the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan that will set the directions and policies for the development and rehabilitation of the industry within 50 years.

The plan includes increasing farm productivity and farmers’ income, alleviating poverty, creating social equity, rehabilitating and at the same time modernizing the coconut industry.

Likewise, the plan incorporates a national program intended for community-based enterprises, coconut farmers’ organization, innovative research projects, as well as integrated processing of coconut and downstream products.

Under the law, the Bureau of Treasury (BTr)is mandated to infuse P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year of its implementation. 

Another P10 billion will be transferred in the second year; P15 billion in the third year; P15 billion in the fourth year; and P25 billion during the fifth year.

The utilization of the trust fund shall be in accordance with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, according to the law. 

It allows an initial allocation of P5 billion to government agencies implementing development projects for the coconut industry.

The Trust Fund Management Committee will be composed of representatives from the Department of Finance (DOF), Department of Budget and Management (DBM, and Department of Justice (DOJ).

It is tasked to set the fund’s investment strategy. 

The government started collecting the coco levy funds from coconut farmers in 1971 through levies, taxes, charges and other fees imposed with the sale of copra rececada.

Aside from coconut farmers, the funds were collected from millers, refiners, processors, exporters and copra end-users.

Several groups filed various lawsuits to wrest control of the funds after the EDSA People Power Revolution. 

The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the coco levy funds were publicly-owned, prompting the government to craft ways on how to develop the coconut industry using the multi-billion assets.

President Duterte signed the measure into law on Friday (February 26).

Coconut farmers oppose Senate, House versions of coco levy trust fund bill

Marje Pelayo   •   December 16, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — A group of coconut farmers expressed opposition to both the Senate and the House of Representatives’ versions of a measure would create a trust fund for coconut farmers.

Under the approved House Bill 8136 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, annual utilization of coco levy trust fund will be allocated to the following programs:

  1. Shared facilities program (10%)
  2. Farm improvement (10%)
  3. Coconut seeds (10%)
  4. Empowerment of coco farmers organizations and cooperatives (10%)
  5. Scholarship (10%)
  6. Health and medical program (10%)
  7. Credit provision (10%)
  8. Infrastructure development (10%)
  9. Training of farmers (TESDA) 10%
  10. Planting and replanting (10%)

The Senate has already approved its version of the bill.

The group, Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR), noted that in both versions, the government’s programs for the coconut industry and farmers will be limited to the specified allocations only.

COIR spokesperson, Joey Faustino, emphasized that the coco levy fund should not become part of the government fund but should be exclusively used for the benefit of coconut farmers and the industry.

The coco levy fund is estimated at around P76 billion.

The said amount was tax collected from the coconut farmers during the term of former president Ferdinand Marcos.

“Sabi nila magsagawa ng plano o road map ng industriya ang PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority ). But to take into consideration na 10 percent dito sa ahensyang ito, five percent doon sa ahensyang ito ng annual allocation… Ano pa ipaplano mo? Isinagawa na nila, itinago lang nila sa mga programa kuno na kailangan ng mga magniniyog,” Faustino said.

The group also questioned the small portion of farmers representation in the board and even in the Trust Fund Committee.

Ed Mora of Kilos Magniniyog said, “Hindi kami isinama at nasa gobyerno lahat ang bubuo ng trust fund committee para mamahala o magmaneho ng pera.”

Mora also noted the removal of the provision to limit beneficiaries to only farmers owning not more than five hectares.

Last 17th Congress na-veto dahil din daw walang limit. Isa iyon sa rason. Walang limit ang benepisyaryo. Bakit inuulit pa? ” Faustino said

The group plans to raise their concerns to President Rodrigo Duterte and ask him to veto the bill. Otherwise, the group said they will seek help from the Supreme Court. MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Passage of Coco Levy Trust Fund bill seen this week

Marje Pelayo   •   December 15, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Allan Velasco sees the passage anytime this week of the proposed bill on the establishment of the Coco Levy Trust Fund.

House Bill 8136 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act already passed the second reading in the committee level.

The bill seeks to utilize the tax collected from coconut farmers some decades ago that reached more than P76-billion.

Velasco said the passage of the bill will hugely help improve the lives of coconut farmers in the country as well as the coconut industry in general.

“The establishment of the trust fund will ensure that the recovered Coco Levy Funds will be used for the development of the coconut industry and to uplift the lives of coco farmers who are among the poorest in the country,” the House Speaker said.

Beneficiaries of the bill are the 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 provinces across the country who rear not less than five hectares of coconut farm.

The proposed measure states that the fund will be maintained under a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plant that will be managed by the Philippine Coconut Authority.  MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Duterte asks Congress to fast-track passage of Coco Levy Trust Fund bill

Marje Pelayo   •   July 23, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Coconut farmers lament over the cheap price of copra that burdens their income at present.

“Bagsak na bagsak na talaga ang copra kaya wala na halos (ikabuhay), (Our copra industry is dying. We are losing income,” said Froilan Revilla, a coconut farmer from Mauban, Quezon.

Revilla said the current price of copra which is at P13.50/kg gives his family an earning of only P2,000 which they need to budget for three months.

The said amount, Revilla explained, was far lower than P8,000 earning per harvest that they used to get from P56/kg price of copra some years ago, specifically in 2000.

According to Revilla, other coconut farmers opted to sacrifice copra farming to venture into alternative sources of income to survive.

For his part, Revilla said he augments his income by planting and selling vegetables and fruits to be able to support his child’s education, though it pains him that his son no longer has interest in coconut farming.

Ayaw ko po sa bundok. Mahirap po ang trabaho, (I don’t like farming as a living. It’s difficult),” said Revilla’s son Reniel who dreams of becoming a policeman.

Given their situation, Revilla and other members of “Kilos Magniniyog” have high hopes in the proposed Coco Levy Trust Fund that President Rodrigo Duterte has been urging the legislators to create.

The Coco Levy Fund is comprised of Marcos-era levy imposed on coconut farmers which has been estimated to have ballooned to P100-B.

The Coco Levy Trust Fund bill has already been forwarded to the President for signing after he made the same plea to the lawmakers in his third SONA in 2018.

But in February this year, the Chief Executive vetoed the proposed legislation because it lacked “vital safeguards” against corruption.

In his SONA on Monday, the President explained that though he understands the urgency of resuscitating the almost dying coconut industry in the country, he still cannot find ‘an honest man’ to manage the fund.

“Kaya ako very careful until now, (That’s why I am very careful until now),” he said.

“This is sacred money. This money was taken out of the pockets of the Filipinos arbitrarily. Tama ang (I agree with the) Supreme Court. You can no longer trace the truthful owner of the land,” he added.

Thus, the President suggested that instead of giving cash to farmers, it would be better to create a trust fund and invest some amount on improvements and developments in the coconut industry.

“Ang plano ko kung gusto ninyo, (My plan and if you agree with me,) you save the money. You invest the money. Siguro magabot iyan ng (The amount is estimated to have reached) more than P100 billion. Lagay na lang ninyo ng (Put it in a) trust fund for the government, (the) P5 billion. Iyon na lang (ang) gastusin ninyo (That would be enough) to reserve the money,” he said.

Though appeased by the President’s plan, coconut farmers said what they want to see now are results of his promise in 2016 that the Coco Levy Fund would be utilized within his first 100 days in office.

“Ito’y salita palang ng Pangulo. Ang katiyakan nito para malubos yung aming tuwa nito gawan ng Pangulo lahat ng paraan para maibalik kaagad yung pera ng Coco Levy sa aming mga magsasaka,” said Ed Mora of the group ‘Kilos Magniniyog”

(That was mere talk from the President. For us to be fully satisfied, the President must find ways to return the benefits of the Coco Levy to us coco farmers.)

The group pushes for a provision that owners of coconut farms larger than five hectares would be excluded from the benefits of the Trust Fund.

Likewise, they suggest that only the interest of the Coco Levy Fund should be utilized for coco farmers’ projects so as to reserve the fund.

They also believe in the importance of creating a joint committee that will manage the Trust Fund with representations from the government and from the coconut farmers as well.

Aside from copra, the coconut farmers also want to promote other coconut-based products such as the virgin coconut oil, one of the country’s export-quality product.

With the President half-way through his term, the coconut farmers hope that the passage of the bill will be accelerated through the House Speakership of Alan Peter Cayetano who is one of the main supporters of the President’s campaign promises. – with details from Rey Pelayo

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