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Coco levy trust fund bill poised for approval

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By Hannah L. Torregoza and Ellson A. Quismorio

Senator Cynthia Villar on Sunday said she is confident that the safeguards and reforms introduced by the Senate on the proposed measure strengthening the coconut industry would pave the way for the granting of better and improved benefits to the country’s 3.5 million coconut farmers.

Meantime, House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chairman and Davao City 1st District Rep. Karlo Nograles said the impending enactment of the coco levy trust fund bill will be a fulfillment of a promise made by President Duterte to coconut farmers to give to them what is rightfully theirs.

Senator Cynthia Villar

Senator Cynthia Villar

The bill’s path

Back in September, 2017, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved on third and final reading House Bill (HB) No. 5745, which seeks to establish the Coconut Farmers And Industry Development Trust Fund.

The Senate earlier passed on second reading Senate Bill No. 1233 or An Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for its Management and Utilization, and for Other Purposes during its plenary session last March 12 and is set to approve it on third reading today.

Nograles said that the third reading passage of the Senate bill would pave the way for the Bicameral Conference Committee, which will be tasked to harmonize SB No. 1223 and HB No. 5745.

Once that is done, the resulting measure will be readied for President Duterte’s signature.

For coconut farmers

Villar said the passage of the bill creating the coconut industry trust fund addresses the decades-old issue surrounding the coconut levy fund and how it can be used for the direct benefit of the coconut farmers.

“We are confident that with safeguards and reforms in place, we can finally see the day when poverty incidence is no longer the highest among our coconut farmers,” said Villar who chairs the Senate committee on food and agriculture.

Villar was one of the senators who supported the amendment introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who suggested that the trust fund committee that would decide on the investment of the fund be scratched, as this will only resurrect the botched Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF).

Safeguards

During the period of individual amendments on the bill, Villar also introduced provisions in the measure to safeguard the P100 billion coconut levy funds composed of cash and assets and to ensure increased income for all coconut farmers.

In particular, the senator pushed for the inclusion of a provision that will mandate “the investment of the trust fund principal only in Philippine government securities to ensure the safety of the fund and for assured returns.”

“In terms of the deployment of the trust fund for investment purposes, this representation strongly feels that as a business woman, investing in stocks, commodities, futures and options would be very risky for a trust fund that is endowed with public interest, even where the services of fund managers are engaged,” she pointed out.

Villar, likewise, also pushed for specific earmarking of the income or interest earning of the trust fund to the following programs: shared facilities program, 35 percent, scholarship program, 15 percent, empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives, 15 percent and farm improvements to encourage self-sufficiency, 35 percent.

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