By Hannah Torregoza
As the nation observes the National Coconut Week, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan Sunday said a Coco Levy Trust Fund (CLTF) law would be the best gift President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress could give to the Filipino coconut farmers.
The Liberal Party president said he believes the bill could be approved within the year after leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives identified it as among the priority measures for passage.
“Many farmers have died without being able to benefit from the fund that came from their hard labor. They have waited for over 40 years. We can’t tell them to wait some more,” said Pangilinan who served as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization during the Aquino administration.
He said the coco levy fund would also be a big boost for the industry constantly hounded by problems like pests and calamities.
The bill primarily seeks to allocate the estimated P100 billion in cash and assets of the coco levy fund for the development of the coconut industry. The funds were proceeds of a forced tax imposed by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on the coconut industry between 1973 and 1982, valued at P9.7 billion and now estimated to have grown to around P100 billion.
The measure, likewise, seeks to establish a perpetual trust fund that would only use the interest income earned and create a fund trustee, the Trust Fund Committee, of which 6 of its 11 members, or a majority, are either from coconut farmers groups or their representatives.
Chaired by the Finance secretary, and cochaired by the Agriculture secretary, the committee would decide on how to invest the fund; specify the formulation of a coconut development plan and ensure the active participation of coconut farmers at every stage of the implementation of the law.
The bill is pending second reading at the Senate. A similar version is being deliberated in plenary at the House.
Pangilinan pointed out none of the bills filed in the past congresses seeking to utilize the funds to develop the coconut industry and benefit the farmers were approved. Coconut farmers groups nationwide, the religious sector, and civil society organizations have all supported the passage of the measure.
“More than the long, arduous fights in court, the main battleground is in Malacañang and Congress, where politics could come into play,” Pangilinan said.
Former President Noynoy Aquino issued Executive Orders 179 and 180 that authorized the utilization of the coconut levy funds to benefit coconut farmers, but it was stopped by the Supreme Court through a temporary restraining order.
“The legal impassé can be resolved if Congress is finally able to pass a law establishing a trust fund for the coconut farmers,” Pangilinan said.
“Let’s end our coconut farmers’ woes and give to them and their families what they deserve and work hard for. Let this administration do it,” he said.
Tags: CLTF law best gift Duterte Congress could give to coconut farmers, Coco Levy Trust Fund, coconut farmers, coconut industry, Congress, Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, Liberal party, Manila Bulletin, President Noynoy Aquino, trust fund, Trust Fund Committee