Joint Senate panel approves coco levy bill for coconut farmers

Camille Elemia
The bill seeks to create a P75-billion trust fund for coconut farmers and the industry, and to provide the framework for its management and use

COCO LEVY BILL. The proposed measure seeks to finally put to use the coco levy fund, now amounting to P75 billion, for the development of the farmers and their industry

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate committees on agriculture and finance on Wednesday, November 9, approved the coco levy bill, which seeks to grant a P75-billion trust fund for the coconut farmers and the industry.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, chair of the agriculture panel, sponsored the committee report on Senate Bill 1233 or “An Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for its Management and Utilisation, and for Other Purposes.”

The bill is now up for plenary debates after 16 senators signed the report, with some expressing their desire to amend the measure or to interpellate Pangilinan.

The bill seeks to ensure the establishment of a trust fund that will enable the P75 billion coco levy fund to finally be used for the development of the coconut industry.

Key features of the bill include:

  • Specifying that the P75 billion in cash and assets of the coco levy fund will be used only for the development of the coconut industry
  • Establishing a perpetual trust fund which will only use the interest income earned
  • Creating a fund trustee, the Trust Fund Committee, of which a majority – 6 of its eleven members – are either from coconut farmers groups or their representative. It will be chaired by the finance secretary, and co-chaired by the agriculture secretary
  • Specifying the formulation of a Coconut Development Plan
  • Ensuring the active participation of coconut farmers at every stage of the implementation of the law

Senators who signed the committee report are:

  1. Francis Pangilinan
  2. Loren Legarda
  3. Franklin Drilon
  4. Ralph Recto
  5. Juan Edgardo Angara
  6. Panfilo Lacson
  7. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV
  8. Manny Pacquiao
  9. Leila de Lima
  10. Richard Gordon
  11. Francis Escudero 
  12. Grace Poe
  13. Nancy Binay
  14. Gregorio Honasan
  15. Sherwin Gatchalian
  16. Risa Hontiveros

Marcos and his cronies

In his sponsorship speech, Pangilinan slammed the Supreme Court decision allowing a hero’s burial for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, as he reminded the public that Marcos and his cronies misused the coco levy funds.

“Pinataw ang coco levy sa magniniyog sa ilalim ng batas militar. Ito’y para umano sa pagpapaunlad ng industriya ng pagniniyog. Sa halip, ang pera binulsa at tinuring na personal na pondo ng mga crony ng diktador. Mahigit 40 taon nang nakabinbin ang pondo dahil sa mga asunto sa korte. Umabot na sa P75 billion ang halaga nito. Korte Suprema na ang nagsabi: Para ito sa ating mga magniniyog,” Pangilinan said in his sponsorship speech.

(The coco levy was imposed on coconut farmers under Martial Law. This is supposedly to develop the coconut industry. Instead, the fund was pocketted and treated as personal funds by the cronies of the dictator. The fund has been idle for over 40 years because of court cases. The amount is now P75 billion. The Supreme Court has said: This is for the coconut farmers.)

In the past Congress, a similar bill was passed in the House of Representatives but was stuck in the Senate. It was one of the hottest campaign issues in the 2016 presidential race. (READ: Danding, coco levy mess rile up Poe, Roxas camps)

President Rodrigo Duterte, for his part, has thrown support for the measure’s passage.

After the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the Philippine government sued Eduardo Cojuangco Sr – a Marcos crony and the uncle of former president Benigno Aquino III – over allegations he used the coconut levt to set up his own businesses such as the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

Government sought to sequester Cojuangco’s shares in SMC and UCPB to give the money to coconut farmers. (READ: The San Miguel-coco levy saga)

Cojuangco resisted this in a prolonged legal battle that spanned for more than two decades. It ended in December 2014, when the Supreme Court ruled with finality that Cojuangco’s shares in SMC should be given to the farmers.

This forced Cojuangco to give to the national treasury the equivalent of his shares in SMC, roughly P71 billion. But the money could not be released to beneficiaries in the absence of a mechanism for it, which the bill seeks to provide. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com