Bicam approves Coconut Levy Trust Fund bill

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — Congress, meeting as the bicameral conference committee, has approved of a reconciled version of the Coconut Levy Trust Fund bill.

This was confirmed by Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture, in a press statement.

"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 in the statement.

The bill to distribute the coconut levy fund, which was taken from a tax imposed on coconut farmers by the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos for the development of the coconut industry, was one of the priority bills of President Rodrigo Duterte in his 2018 State of the Nation Address.

The bicameral conference committee's consolidated version of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act includes a provision that the P100 billion coconut levy fund in cash and assets will be invested in a trust fund in government securities. The proceeds will be returned to coconut farmers.

The trust fund will be managed by a team that would be composed of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Budget and Management, a coconut industry stakeholder, and six coconut farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with two representatives each.

In turn, the PCA will be reconstituted as an overhead body instead of the sole manager of the coco levy funds.

"Ini-simplify namin iyong management, para less ang overhead para lahat ng pera mapupunta for the benefit of the coconut farmer," Villar said.

[Translation: We simplified the management, so that there'll be less overhead costs and the money will benefit the coconut farmer.]

No fixed term was set on when to end the distribution of the fund, as it will exist until it runs out. There is also a provision to spend P5 billion of the fund yearly on scholarships, empowerment of cooperatives, farm improvements, and medical benefits.

The yearly P10 billion budget of the PCA will be sourced not from the fund, but from the national budget.

Senators Villar and Francis Pangilinan, who was former head of the Senate committee on agriculture and primary author of the bill in the Senate, formed the Senate contingent of the bicameral conference. The House contingent was made up 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.

It has been 47 years since Marcos implemented the collection of the coconut levy tax. Farmers claim that they have yet to reap its benefits.

The Supreme Court has issued several decisions on the coconut levy fund in relation to the former President and his alleged cronies.