By Ellson Quismorio
A ranking member of the House of Representatives welcomed on Tuesday the conduct of a special audit by the Commission on Audit (COA) on the P75-billion coconut or coco levy fund.
“This is the first time that an audit of the fund has been done since it was collected from small coconut farmers from 1971 until the early 80s,” said Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate, a member of the militant Makabayan Bloc and a Senior Deputy Minority Leader.
“This is a welcome development. [Now] we can truly determine the real status of this multi-billion fund. The audit will also ensure the integrity and protection of the funds intended for genuine coconut farmers and for the improvement of their lives,” Davao-based solon noted.
COA disclosed the conduct of the unprecedented special audit on the coco levy funds during Zarate’s interpellation of the agency’s proposed 2020 budget on the plenary floor Tuesday afternoon.
“There are apprehensions that the fund may have already been squandered. Now, at least we will know how the different administrations used if any, the funds and we will hold those responsible for anomalies accountable,” Zarate said.
The coco levy refers to a 40-year-old tax on coconut farmers, the resulting fund of which was supposed to be used for the development of the local coconut industry.
It is not without controversy, and the money’s return to the hands of farmers has been a longtime clamor. It is, for the most part, a political issue given the era that it was created.
The coco levy fund includes P62.5 billion in cash that’s supposedly kept in a government special account and P13 billion held in an escrow account that’s supposedly earning interests.
“We also hope that with the COA audit, the House leadership will also push the fast-tracking of House Bill (HB) 255 or the Genuine Small Coconut Farmers Trust Fund bill, so that genuine small farmers themselves can benefit from the fund that was forcibly collected from them more than 30 years ago,” Zarate said.
The House of Representatives is on its second week of plenary debates on the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020.