CERTIFY Coco Levy Fund Bill as urgent, Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin urged President Rodrigo Duterte.
The President should push for the immediate passage of the coco levy measure if he really wants to fulfill his promise of distributing the fund to the farmers and their beneficiaries, Villarin said.
During the campaign period, President Duterte vowed that the coco levy fund, amounting to P72 billion, would be released under his administration because these funds really belong to the coconut farmers.
Villarin asked Duterte to rally his supermajority in the House of Representatives and have the coco levy trust fund bill passed in the current Congress.
The solon pointed to several bills pending in both houses of Congress, including a version he authored under House Bill No. 2833 or An Act Establishing the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund and Providing for Its Management and Utilization.
“Our coconut farmers need the funds back, not more excuses,” he added.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol reportedly said that the farmers were “barking up the wrong tree,” claiming that the government’s hands were tied due to the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court on former President Noynoy Aquino’s executive issuances that authorized the utilization of the coconut levy funds to benefit coconut farmers (EOs 179 and 180).
However, Villarin argued that such legal impasse can be partially resolved if Congress is finally able to pass a law establishing a trust fund for coconut farmers.
“Even without the executive order, the most legally tenable way to distribute the levies is by enacting it into law,” the lawmaker said.
“Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan. Kung gusto, may paraan,” he added.
Sen. Kiko Pangilinan has appealed to the House to expedite the public hearings on the Coconut Trust Fund Bill.
He said its immediate passage would “unlock” the P75 billion coco levy funds for the benefit of the 3.5 million Filipino coconut farmers.
“We urge our colleagues in Congress to immediately start the hearings on the proposed Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill. The Senate already concluded its hearings last Sept. 1, and is in the process of preparing the committee report,” said Pangilinan.
“We have a clear message from the administration to correct this particular Martial Law injustice. Let’s do it as soon as possible for the sake of our impoverished coconut farmers,” he said.
The P75-billion fund is already with the national treasury and cannot be spent without congressional approval or a new law.
“This means Congress needs to enact a legislation that will allow for these funds to be utilized,” said Pangilinan.
The P75-billion coco levy funds were collected from coconut farmers during Martial Law purportedly for the development of the coconut industry.
“For over 40 years, the money was trapped in court disputes,” said Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the coco levy fund is public fund and awarded it to the government solely for the development of the coconut industry.
“We should not keep our farmers waiting much longer. This is something that is more than 40 years late,” he said.