Duterte seeks passage of coco levy bill after vetoing it

Camille Elemia
'I also have not forgotten my commitment,' says President Rodrigo Duterte on the coco levy funds

COCONUT INDUSTRY. A coconut farmer prepares coconuts to be made of copra, at a farm just next to the seashore in Hernani, Eastern Samar, on December 10, 2014. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – More than 5 months after vetoing the coconut levy trust fund bill, President Rodrigo Duterte again called for its passage into law.

In his 2019 State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 22, Duterte said he has “not forgotten [his] commitment to uplift the lives of coconut farmers,” among the country’s poorest of the poor. (READ: Coco levy fund scam: Gold for the corrupt, crumbs for farmers)

Duterte made a campaign promise to return the coco levy funds to farmers in his first 100 days in office. But in February 2019, he vetoed the twin bills that would have allowed the return of the money.

The coco levy refers to the taxes imposed on coconut farmers from 1971 to 1983 by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies. The amount collected was estimated to be P9.7 billion, which was used to invest in businesses for personal gain. (READ: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)

“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,” Duterte said.

Duterte also publicly acknowledged that the coco levy funds were stolen from farmers during Martial Law under Marcos, whose relatives are supporters of Duterte. Senator Imee Marcos was in the audience when he said it.

“Itong coco fund na ito, ito ‘yung naiwan noong kay Marcos na levy fund (This fund was the money left from the levy fund during Marcos’ time). This is sacred money, this money was taken out of the pockets of Filipinos arbitrarily. Wala ka magawa noon (You could not do anything then), Martial Law,” he said.

Duterte said he wants the money invested in a trust fund – which was what the vetoed bills were all about from the start. He then said he would just give P5 billion to farmers to spend for the development of the industry.

“Ang plano ko kung gusto ninyo you save the money, you invest the money, abot ‘yan more than P100 billion, ilagay ‘nyo sa trust fund for the government. ‘Yun na lang gastusin ninyo rather than…sprinkle sa mga tao,” Duterte said.

(My plan is, if you want it, you save the money, you invest the money, which would amount to more than P100 billion, just put it in a trust fund for the government. Spend that instead of distributing it to the people.)

“Ang gusto ko, ideposito ko na lang (What I want is to just deposit the money). Let it remain as a remembrance of the people who lost at that time. ‘Yung (The) P5 billion, to improve the planting of coconut levy. P5 billion, that’s big money,” he added.

The passage of the bill in Congress was the farthest it ever reached. But after the presidential veto, coconut farmers lost hope that Duterte would fulfill his promise. (READ: ‘Na-Duterte kami’: Why farmers feel betrayed by coco levy vetoes) – 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