Warning of corruption risks, Duterte vetoes bill reconstituting PCA

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PRESIDENT Duterte has vetoed the bill strengthening the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) because the proposed reconstitution of the agency even made it susceptible to corruption, Malacañang said.

The Palace said, “it is with a very heavy heart” that the President exercised his veto power, hoping that the lawmakers can “re-craft another measure that will provide more safeguards to protect the taxpayers’ money and shield the levy fund from irregular and unlawful use, as well as guarantee its proper management.”

This was the first time that the President exercised his power to veto a measure in its entirety.

The reconstituted PCA was supposed to supervise and manage the coconut-levy funds and ensure the implementation of the new Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo explained that the PCA was set up like the Road Board, which is heavily criticized for allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds.

“The PCA Board, like the Road Board, which disburses the Motor Vehicle User’s Charge, is given full authority to disburse P10 billion every year in perpetuity without a terminal date, and subject only to review by Congress after six years,” Panelo said.

He said the P10 billion in annual appropriation was for the development of an industry, but its implementation was placed on an agency not required to seek approval from the Executive branch.

This, therefore, made it “susceptible to corruption akin to creating pork-barrel funds,” Malacañang explained.

“The oversight functions over the Philippine Coconut Authority is placed only with Congress. Specifically, the strengthened PCA bill mentions of an oversight to be exercised by the Coconut Farmers and the Industry Oversight Committee to the exclusion of the Executive Branch,” he said.

Malacañang also confirmed that one of the provisions under the bill that it found objectionable was the composition of the 15-member PCA board. “The composition of the reconstituted 15-member PCA board under the PCA bill includes seven members coming from the private sector.

A receipt of P10 billion by the board from taxpayers’ money therefore translates to permitting private persons to influence the disbursement of public funds,” he said.

Moreover, a reconstituted PCA also lacked the proper checks and balances as it was given various functions, including but not limited to the sale, disposition or dissolution of coconut-levy assets.

“Such condition will diminish the ability of the Department of Justice, through the Office of the Solicitor General in coordination with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, to act on cases relating to coco-levy assets,” he said.

Nonetheless, Malacañang is hoping that the President’s veto will urge Congress to give more time and opportunity to improve the formulation of PCA and the distribution of coco-levy funds.

“The veto by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the legislative measure is a reflection of the principled stand of this administration in promoting good governance and public accountability,” Panelo said.

The coconut-levy funds have been stuck in court disputes until 2012, when the Supreme Court awarded the shares bought with the coco-levy funds to the government to be used for coconut farmers and the industry.

It was unclear yet what will happen to the related bill creating a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund, which has been already resubmitted by Congress to the Office of the President last January 17.

It is set to lapse into law by February 17 if the President does not act on it.

Senators earlier sought to recall the said bill to avert a presidential veto as it failed to include a major amendment in the Bicameral Conference Committee Report.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri earlier said the President wants the bill amended so that the majority of the trust fund board membes who will distribute the funds to farmers would be composed of government officials.

The distribution of the coco-levy funds was one of the priority bills by the Duterte administration.