File photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed the bill reconstituting the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), a measure critical to the proposed coco levy bill which is supposed to ensure coconut farmers get to benefit from coco levy funds.
A letter received by the Senate on Friday, February 8, states that Duterte is "constrained to veto" the Strengthened Philippine Coconut Authority Law.
It is the first time Duterte used his presidential veto powers to veto an entire enrolled bill, instead of specific provisions.
While Duterte supposedly sees the urgency of addressing concerns of coconut farmers, "the present formulation of the proposed legislative measure regrettably lacks vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes in the past." (READ: Coco levy fund scam: Gold for the corrupt, crumbs for farmers)
Presidential Legislative Liaison Office chief Adelino Sitoy confirmed the content of the letter to Rappler.
Why the veto? The letter does not expound on the supposed deficiencies of the enrolled bill. However, Duterte had previously threatened to veto a related bill because he wanted government officials, and not coconut farmers, to have a majority of seats in the PCA board. The membership of the PCA board is critical because it is assigned to manage the coco levy funds.
In earlier versions of the bill, the PCA board was to be dominated by civilians – 6 coconut farmers and one coconut industry representative. In comparison, there would be only 4 government officials. Coconut farmer groups have long called for greater representation in the body.
To avoid a veto, both the Senate and House of Representatives asked Malacañang to return the so-called coconut levy bill so they could fix the provisions Duterte did not like.
The next iteration of the bill placed 8 government officials in the board and retained the previous number of coconut farmers and industry representatives – thus addressing Malacañang's concern.
The proposed law for reconstituting the PCA is the "twin law" of the proposed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, an enrolled bill that will lapse into law on February 17.
This law is supposed to ensure that coconut farmers directly benefit from the roughly P75 billion in coco levy funds and assets. (READ: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)
The coco levy refers to the tax imposed on coconut farmers under the Marcos administration but which was used to buy and invest in businesses of the late dictator's cronies. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the coco levy funds must "only be for the benefit of all coconut farmers and development of the coconut industry."
Farmers have been waiting for the passage of the measure for decades now.
But Duterte's veto creates a cloud of uncertainty of when farmers will be able to benefit from the coco levy funds.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte vowed in front of coconut farmers that they would benefit from the coco levy funds within the first 100 days of his presidency. – with reports from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.