New PCA chief 'confident' coco levy bill will pass in 2017

MANILA, Philippines – The new head of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is "confident" that the bill seeking to create a trust fund from the P75-billion coconut levy will be approved in 2017.

PCA Administrator Romulo dela Rosa said there is already a consensus for an enabling law to return the coco levy fund to farmers, following a Supreme Court ruling. (READ: The politics of the coco levy scam: From Marcos to Noynoy Aquino)

The coconut levy or coco levy refers to taxes collected from farmers from 1971 to 1983. They were meant to develop the coconut industry, but in the end were used by Marcos cronies – some of whom are still influential to date – to invest in and buy businesses for their profit. (READ: Coco levy fund scam: Gold for the corrupt, crumbs for the farmers)

Dela Rosa said the PCA would now ask President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the bill as urgent.

"Yeah, we hope that the President, we will urge the President to certify it as urgent. So you know, there is more encouragement on both Houses to work fast and hard. But let me mention this, I think the idea of an enabling law, everybody agrees that there [should be an] enabling law. It is not as if it is an unpopular thing in both houses of Congress," Dela Rosa said in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, July 6.

"In fact, they already have, the committee-level work has been done. So it's now a matter of reconciling the two [versions.] The role of the executive department will be important. That's how I see it. That's why I'm confident it will pass this year," Dela Rosa added.

Hopefully in SONA

Aside from the President's certification, Dela Rosa said he is hoping Duterte will mention the bill in his 2nd State of the Nation Address on July 24 – a sentiment shared by farmers' groups.

"We hope he would mention it in his SONA. We will ask the President really to mention it in [his] SONA. Exert pressure from the executive branch of government on the legislative branch to work harder so that we can have the law passed within the year. That's what we are going to do," the PCA chief said.

As early as the 2016 campaign, Duterte vowed to return the P75-billion coco levy fund to the farmers in his first 100 days in office – something that has yet to be fulfilled more than a year after. (READ: Duterte's coco levy promise: It's time to 'force the issue with Congress')

Duterte has included the bill seeking to create a trust fund for farmers in his priority legislation. The measure seeks the creation of a Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan, which will be financed by the coco levy fund if the bill is enacted into law.

The bill also seeks the creation of a trust fund committee, under the Office of the President, to monitor and supervise the fund, the plan's implementation, and the privatization of some other coco levy assets.

Usually, the executive prepares its own version of its priority bill and transmits it to Congress through its allied lawmakers and senators. But in this case, the executive has no ready draft to date.

Malacañang started holding its technical working group meetings only in February, way past the 100-day deadline.

At present, the bill is pending on 2nd reading in both chambers. It is in the period of amendments in the Senate and is up for sponsorship in the House.

With the evident delay in the President's promise, Dela Rosa said they would no longer craft a separate executive version. They plan to just include their proposed provisions and amendments in the bicameral conference committee – the last step before the measure gets to the President's table for signature. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, 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

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