Press Release
May 28, 2020

Sponsorship Speech of Sen. Cynthia Villar on Senate Bill 1396 or the Coconut levy bill

Mr. President, my esteemed colleagues, a pleasant afternoon to all. Mr. President, as the Chairperson in the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, I stand here today to sponsor Senate Bill No. 1396 under Committee Report No. 65 or "An Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for Its Management and Utilization, Reconstituting for the Purpose the Philippine Coconut Authority Board, And for Other Purposes." This bill is in substitution of Senate Bill Nos. 31, 266, 1052, and 1127 with Senators Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, Ralph G. Recto, Cynthia A. Villar, and Imee R. Marcos as authors thereof.

During the 17th Congress the Coco Levy bill was approved by both Houses and was sent to the President for signing into law but was vetoed. More than 5 months after vetoing the coconut levy trust fund bill, President Rodrigo Duterte again called for its passage into law in his 2019 State of the Nation Address. He reiterated his commitment to uplift the lives of coconut farmers who are among the country's poorest of the poor.

The coco levy refers to the taxes imposed on coconut farmers from 1971 to 1983. The amount collected is now estimated to be P105 billion. In the past it was used to invest in businesses not directly benefiting the coconut farmers. I believe this Congress also have not forgotten our commitment to uplift the lives of coconut farmers and further develop the coconut industry through the urgent utilization of the coconut levy fund. The bill is now being refiled with some modifications, taking into consideration the inputs being suggested by the executive branch of government so it will not be vetoed for the sake of the coconut farmers.

It has likewise considered a 2015 Supreme Court decision voiding certain provisions of two Executive Orders on the management of the funds and its reconveyance in order to help fast track the consolidation of the coco levy assets. These are EO 179 and EO 180.The Supreme Court expressed that all coco levy assets must be administered by the government and all funds must be used for the benefit of the coconut industry. The disbursement should be by authority of a legislation passed by Congress.

In the new bill, The Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund is being created, to be managed and disbursed in accordance with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan which shall be defined in the law, and implemented by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) once approved by the President of the Philippines. The Plan shall set how the coconut industry will be rehabilitated in the next ninety-nine (99) years, which is the suggested life-span of the Trust Fund. Although we can amend it if the target benefits to the coconut farmers have been reached.

The Plan shall include programs/activities/actions in specific terms that shall the increased farm productivity and incomes of coconut farmers; intensive effort on intercropping and livestock rising, including dairy; the establishment of coconut-based enterprises; rehabilitation and modernization of the coconut industry towards global competitiveness; poverty alleviation and social equity, among several others shall always be the desired end results.

Immediately upon enactment of this bill into law, the Bureau of Treasury shall transfer Five Billion Pesos (P5, 000,000,000.00) to the Trust Fund, and another Five Billion Pesos (P5, 000,000,000.00) shall be initially allocated to the PCA.

The utilization of the Trust Fund shall be for provisions of the establishment of facilities essential to the industry, empowerment of coconut farmers' organizations and cooperatives, farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency, scholarship program, and health and medical program for industry members. The Trust Fund monies shall be separate and distinct from the regular fund of the PCA from the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Towards this end, the PCA, as the implementing agency of this proposed law, is being strengthened, with increased presence of government department secretaries in the Board, and additional farmers' representation from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

To ensure the judicious use of the fund, the bill also creates the Trust Fund Management Committee comprised of representatives from the Department of Finance (DoF), Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Justice. The DoF shall be designated as the Fund Manager.

This proposed law is what the Supreme Court is looking for as the legislative authority of the fund disbursement once approved.

The help to coconut industry is long overdue, it's about time the monies of our coconut farmers, which they rightfully own, should be plowed back to the coconut industry for the ultimate benefit not only of the 3.5 M coconut farmers but of our entire coconut industry and the Philippine economy.

Hence, the early approval of this bill is earnestly sought.

Thank you very much.

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