AFTER the coconut-levy issue took centerstage at the second presidential debates on Sunday, former Sen. Francis Pangilinan reiterated his call for the Senate to pass the Coco Levy Trust Fund measure already passed on third reading by the House of Representatives.
“The Senate has a window after the elections between May 25 and June 9, when they can pass the law,” Pangilinan said.
“This measure is so critical that the House passed it last October and the President certified it as urgent also last October,” Pangilinan said.
According to a draft poverty reduction road map for the coconut industry, 3.5 million coconut farmers and farmworkers work on 3.4 million hectares planted to coconut in 68 of the country’s 81 provinces.
The road map prepared by the National Anti-Poverty Commission, in consultation with coconut farmers, said about 25 million Filipinos are dependent on the industry that takes up about 26 percent of the total agricultural lands.
Highlighting the sorry situation of coconut farmers, Pangilinan said the average annual income of coconut farmers is P15,000. “That’s P50 a day,” he said.
“Nothing at this stage prevents the Senate from passing the law. Any time during that May 25 to June 9 period, the Senate can pass that law, and both Houses of Congress can ratify it,” Pangilinan added.
He said that when passed into law, the measure would benefit coconut farmers who contributed part of their earnings since martial law to the fund created purportedly for their benefit.
The Supreme Court has ruled that part of the fund, transferred to Marcos crony-owned corporations and used to buy various financial instruments and now valued at about P73 billion, comprises government funds.
Pangilinan, who helped craft the bill as presidential assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said that under the measure, the P73 billion is turned into a perpetual fund, with the principal staying intact.
A body of coconut farmers and government representatives will implement the road map and decide on the type of high-yielding investment into which it can put the money, without using the principal.
The road map focuses on coco-enterprise development, Pangilinan explained, because traditional copra is no longer profitable and other products, such as virgin coconut oil, coco sugar and coco water, are higher-value products that farmers can go into for bigger earnings.
The coco-levy fund started as 55-centavo-per-100-kilogram fee collected from each coconut farmer beginning in 1973, purportedly to be used to stabilize the domestic price of coconut-based consumer goods like cooking oil.
The Philippine Coconut Authority was used as conduit for these collections to finance the development of a hybrid coconut tree. Many coconut farmers who opposed or questioned the collected levies for which they did not benefit were harassed, imprisoned and killed during the imposition of martial law.
For a long time, the fund has been stuck in court disputes, until the SC awarded in 2012 a 24-percent bloc of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund-San Miguel Corp. (CIIF-SMC) shares, bought with coco-levy funds, to the government to be used for coconut farmers and the industry.
From September to November 2014, 71 coconut farmers marched from Davao to Manila to seek public and government support for their call to release the then-P71 billion of the coco-levy fund made finally available to them by the Supreme Court decision.
Acting on the coconut farmers’ appeal, in March 2015, Malacañang issued two executive orders that aim to give coco farmers access to their fund, detailing the judicious steps to be taken and the stakeholders involved in the process.
Executive Order 179 requires the “inventory, privatization and reconveyance and in favor of the government of all coconut-levy assets, including, but not limited to, the shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank, Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF)companies and CIIF holding companies, as well as the 5,500,000 San Miguel Corp. shares registered in the name of the Presidential Commission on Good Government.”
EO 180 ordered the “immediate transfer and reconveyance of the coconut levy assets to the government and use them for the Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap and the Roadmap for Coco Levy.”
In June 2015, the Supreme Court temporarily stopped the implementation of the two executive orders through a temporary restraining order.
In October 2015, the House of Representatives passed on third reading the Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill. The Senate only went as far as period of amendments even with the President certifying the bill as urgent.