The House of Representatives on Monday, December 14, passed on 3rd and final reading a bill to create a trust fund from proceeds of the planned sale of assets of the Marcos-era coconut levy fund.
House Bill No. 8136 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act hurdled the chamber with 221 affirmative votes, 6 negative votes, and no abstentions.
The Makabayan bloc – Bayan Muna Representatives Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago – opposed the passage of the measure.
The Senate passed its version of the coco levy trust fund bill in October.
The proposed trust fund will come from the coco levy fund – the tax imposed on coconut farmers by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from 1971 to 1983.
Marcos and his cronies invested the money in businesses, but “rewards” and benefits promised to the farmers never materialized.
Amounting to P9.7 billion at the time, the coco levy fund is now worth around P76 billion.
In early 2019, Congress passed and ratified two bills: one creating the trust fund for coconut farmers and the industry, and another reconstituting the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Board.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed the bills, despite his campaign promise to restore the coco levy funds to coconut farmers.
At the time, Malacañang disagreed with the proposed inclusion of 6 private farmers and an industry representative in the 15-member PCA Board, arguing that the trust fund, as public monies, should be managed by government officials. The palace also found the PCA Board’s authority under the bill too broad.
Lawmakers then went back to the drawing board to draft new versions of the coco levy measure.
Duterte’s rejection of the earlier coco levy bills disappointed coconut farmers who had counted on his promise, and who have been waiting for decades to benefit from the money taken from them.
During his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July 2019, Duterte acknowledged that the coco levy money “was taken out of the pockets of Filipinos arbitrarily.” He then pushed for the passage of a new coco levy bill.
Duterte again mentioned the coco levy fund during his latest SONA in July 2020.
The two chambers of Congress are expected to hold a bicameral conference to finalize the proposed measure in the coming weeks. – Rappler.com