HOUSE Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda on Sunday proposed that the Philippine Coconut Authority and the Department of Agriculture designate a project preparation office to help implementing national government agencies, local governments, and other proponents formulate viable project proposals to access the P75- billion Coconut Industry Development Trust Fund, created under Republic Act No. 11524.
“The way the fund is structured is that the Department of Budget and Management only releases funds to implementing agencies when there are already workable proposals for their use. So, it’s heavily dependent on the quality of proposals. It’s like a grant in that sense,” he said.
“So, to expedite the use of Coco Levy Trust Fund, I would strongly suggest to PBBM, the DA, and the Philippine Coconut Authority to designate some office that would serve as the project development unit to help agencies and farmers propose projects for funding,” he added.
According to Salceda, the office would also help ensure that the proposals are viable, sustainable, and effective in their objectives of truly uplifting the lives of coconut farmers.
As of July, the DBM has released only P755 million of the P75-billion fund, P5 billion of which is mandated to be spent annually.
Currently, Salceda said the utilization rate for the Coco Levy Trust Funds is very low because good proposals simply do not exist.
“Certainly, there is a gap in capacities of implementing agencies. That gap is obviously in project development. So, why don’t we help agencies, LGUs, and farmers create proposals that can be funded? That way, we expedite the release of funds, and frontload benefits to coconut farmers. They’ve waited for this for decades,” he said.
Salceda also proposed a centralized portal containing all requirements, standards, and useful information on accessing the Trust Fund.
“The process can be quite complex and difficult to access or understand. I had to be briefed by the Treasurer of the Philippines herself on the use and allocation of such funds before I fully understood how it was supposed to work. Understandably, disbursement has been slow as a result,” he said.
“I think we can certainly do better on this front. LGUs and farmer groups can partner with implementing agencies, for example, in proposing projects and accessing funds. Perhaps the DA can generate templates and best practices for fundable projects. But we need to be able to benefit from the trust fund soon, because coconut is and will always remain a key agricultural sector,” the solon added.
Salceda said that there is momentum in the coconut sector, with Philippine coconut product exports reaching almost $2 billion in 2021.
“We produce the most coconuts per land area among all the world’s major producers. This is one of our comparative advantages in agriculture. We need to get this sector right – and if we do, the rewards for our farmers and our economy as a whole are significant,” he said.
“This is unlike rice or sugar where we need massive investments to be a global leader in production. For coconut products, we are already the world’s best. We just need to sustain investments in the sector, and the money already exists. It would be an unforgivable sin of omission if we lose out on this sector, when we have the funds, the interest, the market, and the know-how to expand our advantages,” he added.