Coco levy trust fund bill hurdles bicam

Passing the bill was among the priorities set by President Rodrigo Duterte in his third SONA last July 23.

The congressional bicameral conference committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would create a P100 billion coconut levy trust fund to benefit around 3.5 million coconut farmers nationwide.

“The Senate version was adopted and then it will be managed by a reconstituted PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority),” Senator Cynthia Villar, the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food and the chair of the Senate panel in the bicam said.

Passing the bill was among the priorities set by President Rodrigo Duterte in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 23. “I urge you Congress to convene the (bicameral) conference committee and pass at the soonest possible time the bill establishing the coconut farmers’ trust fund. I pray that you will do it," Duterte said.

The Senate approved its version on third and final reading last March while the House of Representatives approved its own version in September last year. The House version provides for the creation of a committee to manage the funds while the Senate version pushed for a reconstituted PCA.

The reconstituted PCA board would include four representatives from government, one from the industry and six coconut farmers.

Villar said the coco levy trust fund would have two sources-- the P105 billion coco levy and the PHP10-billion allotment in the General Appropriations Act (GAA). She said the P105 billion coco levy would be invested in treasury bills, with the earnings earmarked for specific programs.

“We will give to the reconstituted PCA to spend it as we enumerated where to spend it; like it will be spent on scholarship of children of farmers, their health benefits, and their shared facilities program and then their program to improve their farms,” Villar said.

The final version earmarked coco levy earnings to the following programs: shared facilities, 30 percent; farm development, 30 percent; empowerment of farmers' organization, 15 percent; scholarship, 15 percent; and health benefits, 10 percent.

Villar said the P10 billion annual allotment from the GAA would be spent to augment the coconut farmers and development fund, increase the income of coconut farmers, and support PCA's developmental activities.

The amount will be allocated as follows: infrastructure program (farm-to-market roads), 20 percent; planting and replanting, 20 percent; Intercropping, 10 percent; shared facilities, 20 percent; research and development, 10 percent; fertilization, 5 percent; new products and marketing, 5 percent; and credit through Landbank; and Development Bank of the Philippines, 10 percent.

To ensure compliance and accountability, Villar said all programs are subject to audit by the Commission on Audit. “All of them will be subject to audit. Remember, the PCA is a government organization, so all of their spendings will be subject to audit,” Villar said.