The Philippine Star
House vows P100-B trust fund for coco farmers
The House of Representatives has vowed to pass before year-end the measure seeking to create a P100-billion trust fund for the use of farmers in the coconut industry, which President Duterte prioritized but had previously vetoed.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said necessary refinement in the measure would be made by the Lower House when it resumes session next month to avoid a third veto from the President and for its implementation next year.
“Before the end of the year, I’m expecting the bill on coco levy funds to be passed by Congress. That’s about P100 billion in funds that will benefit our coco farmers,” he revealed in an interview in Ozamiz City.
Cayetano filed House Bill 10 or the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund Act last July, but the measure has not yet advanced because Congress prioritized the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 and other priority economic measures during the first quarter of this 18th Congress.
The House leader cited the need to pass the measure to address the needs of some 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country.
“This is really a serious problem we need to address seven out of 10 of our poorest farmers are coconut farmers who are now forced to take on extra jobs as tricycle drivers or factory workers to make ends meet for their families. So definitely we need to revive our coconut industry,” the representative of Taguig-Pateros stressed.
Cayetano, under whose leadership the House was able to pass a budget bill in record time of just one month, explained that the coconut industry has so much potential but needs government support.
“There are many products we can produce from the industry - coco water, virgin coconut oil and coco sugar but if we don’t pour money into this relatively new industry, we cannot entice the private sector to invest also,” he explained.
The Speaker has assured that coconut industry and agriculture sector in general would get more funding next year under the 2020 budget.
His bill has been referred to the committee on agriculture and food, which is expected to start deliberating on the measure next month.
Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero agreed with Cayetano on the need to prioritize this measure.
“Our farmers can expect our full support in this 18th Congress to address their needs and alleviate them from poverty. Providing a trust fund that would support and empower our coco farmers will benefit not only the industry but the country’s economy in the long run,” the economist-lawmaker explained to The STAR.
Romero, head of the partylist bloc, further assured that the bill will breeze through the lower house since it was already passed on final reading in the previous Congress.
He cited Rule 10 Section 48 of the House that allows committees to dispose priority measures already filed and approved on third reading in the immediately preceding Congress.
To recall, the 17th Congress passed the measure then numbered HB 9197.
But last February, Duterte vetoed the priority bill which he said contained provisions that violated the Constitution.
It was the second time that the President exercised his power to veto a bill in its entirety. He had earlier vetoed a related bill that sought to strengthen the PCA, as it lacked the proper safeguards against corruption.
The measure creates a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund, consisting of the Trust Principal and the Trust Income to be maintained for a period of 30 years or until the fund is fully utilized.
It will consolidate all assets and benefits emanating from the coconut levy and create a trust fund for the exclusive benefit of coconut farmers and farm workers as embodied in the Coconut Farmers Development Fund.
The proposed Trust Fund will be deposited in the Bureau of Treasury which shall account for it in a manner provided by the coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Committee under the Office of the President.
A P10-billion initial trust principal shall be allocated to as “jumpstart fund” to accelerate the development of the industry.
The bill also mandates an annual allocation of at least P5 billion to be released for the programs and projects for the benefit of coconut farmers and workers.
An adhoc committee will also be created to prepare every five years a medium-term plan of programs, activities, and projects which will be funded out of the Trust Fund. The plan will be known as the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.