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‘Congress must heed Duterte’s order to pass coco-levy bill’

A FARMERS’ group backed President Duterte’s call for the immediate passage of a measure that allows planters now burdened by low copra prices to use the P100-billion coconut-levy fund.

“The Federation of Free Farmers [FFF] welcomed President Duterte’s urgent call for Congress to enact legislation that would unlock the P100-billion coconut-levy fund for the benefit of some 3.5 million farmers and farmworkers nationwide,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

FFF said it has been pushing for the use of the coconut-levy fund as early as 1993.

Then-FFF Secretary-General and Peasant Sector Rep. Leonardo Q. Montemayor filed House Bill 10428 in the 9th Congress to improve the coconut industry through the coco levy.

“The measure sought to strengthen the PCA [Philippine Coconut Authority], increase coconut farmers’ participation and benefits in their industry, and consolidate levy collections from coconut farmers into a trust fund for the development of farmers and the entire sector,” it added.

The FFF said coconut farmers are now in dire need of government support as they have incurred huge losses due to low copra prices in the past two years.

The glut in global vegetable oil supply caused world coconut oil prices to sink below $1,000 per metric ton in recent years. The decline in CNO prices resulted in lower copra prices as it tracks the movement of vegetable oil prices.

Filipino planters, the FFF said, could not immediately recoup their losses, as proposed measures to aid them from declining copra prices have been shelved or weakly implemented by the government.

These measures include the direct purchase of copra by companies under the UCPB-CIIF Oil Mills Group, curtailing of palm oil imports, increasing the percentage of coconut methyl ester in diesel mix, and export of more fresh coconuts or buko.

“With significant financing from the coconut levy trust fund, the following activities can be immediately undertaken to improve farmers’ livelihood and incomes on a massive scale: coconut tree fertilization, planting, and replanting; crop diversification; fresh coconut processing/value-adding; among others,” the FFF said.

Veto

Last February, Duterte vetoed a priority bill which sought to establish the Coconut Farmers and Industry Fund. The President said the bill passed by Congress had 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.

While the coconut-levy trust fund is one of the priority bills of the Duterte administration, the President concluded after much deliberation that the bill is “lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past.”

During his fourth State of the Nation Address on Monday, the President urged Congress to pass a measure that will set up the coconut-levy trust fund.

“I also have not forgotten my commitment to uplift the lives of coconut farmers and further develop the coconut industry through the urgent utilization of the coconut-levy fund,” he said.

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