House OKs on 2nd reading coco levy trust fund bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 9) — The House of Representatives approved on second reading a measure that would create a trust fund that will be used to improve the country's coconut industry.

Through a voice vote, the lower chamber approved House Bill No. 8136, or the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act. It aims to establish a trust fund that shall be maintained for 99 years under the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan to be formulated by the Philippine Coconut Authority.

It also "shall be exclusively used for the ultimate benefit of the coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry."

The fund should be allocated to: shared facilities program, farm improvement, development of hybrid coconut seed farms and nurseries, empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and cooperatives, scholarship programs, health and medical programs, credit facility, infrastructure development, training of farmers, and planting and replanting programs.

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and sponsor of the measure, said around ₱76 billion is on hand in the Bureau of Treasury, while ₱300 billion more is also expected pending the review of the Commission on Audit.

The measure will also amend the composition of the Philippine Coconut Authority Board with the agriculture secretary as chairperson and the finance secretary as vice chairperson. Included in the board are the budget, science and technology, and trade secretaries, as well as three representatives of the coconut farmers, and one from the industry.

During the debates, Representatives Ferdinand Gaite and Arlene Brosas said the industry should have more representatives in the formulation of plans since they are the ones who will be directly affected by what is going to be implemented.

However, Enverga cited President Rodrigo Duterte's veto message for the proposed measure in 2019 that criticized the dominance of the representation from the private sector, which was eight from the farmers and industry, and seven from the government.

He mentioned that "the bill allows for private individuals to dominate the membership of the PCA board and might be given too much influence for the disbursement of public funds."

The new measure will still pass through third reading for final approval by the lower chamber.

In October, the Senate approved a similar bill on third and final reading.