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Duterte signs coconut trust fund bill into law
After vetoing the bill in 2019, Duterte finally signed last Friday Republic Act 11524, the law creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund and reconstituting the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) board.
Presidential Photo/Ace Morandante, file

Duterte signs coconut trust fund bill into law

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has signed the law that secures benefits for over 3 million mostly impoverished coconut farmers and their families through a P75-billion trust fund created also to develop a flourishing coconut industry.

After vetoing the bill in 2019, Duterte finally signed last Friday Republic Act 11524, the law creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund and reconstituting the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) board.

With the law in place, coconut levy funds will now be managed and utilized through the trust fund for 50 years under the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

Programs to be formulated under the law would improve coconut farmers’ incomes and provide their families social protection as well as health and education benefits.

The Trust Fund, which comes from the levy funds paid by coconut farmers during the Marcos era, is separate and distinct from the regular funds appropriated to the PCA through the annual General Appropriations Act.

As such, the PCA shall continue to pursue its mandate of implementing programs and projects from the regular GAA appropriations and from the funds under the trust fund.

Upon the enactment of the law, the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) will transfer P10 billion of the levy funds to the trust fund, and for succeeding years according to the following schedule: second year, P10 billion; third year, P15 billion; fourth year, P15 billion and fifth year, P25 billion.

The law provides that the fund will be augmented from proceeds of privatization or disposition of coconut levy assets remitted to the BTr.

The Department of Finance is designated as the manager of the trust fund, which shall be responsible for the investment strategy set by the trust fund management committee.

Vigilance urged

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, principal author of the Senate bill that is now a law, called for vigilance to ensure that the funds and assets from the coconut levy would benefit coconut farmers.

“This is the fruit of almost half a century of struggle against the injustice suffered by our coconut farmers. Our coconut farmers and their families must now reap the benefits of their hard-earned money,” he said, so “those who contributed to the fund must benefit from it.”

Pangilinan urged government officials tasked to oversee and control the over P70 billion in cash and P30 billion in assets to ensure that these returned ill-gotten wealth be utilized and spent judiciously and according to the provisions of the law.

Despite being principal author of the Senate bill and one of the authors of the final version of the law signed by the President, Pangilinan voted with reservations for its passage after some of its provisions were watered down.

Pangilinan and several other senators were overruled during the voting in their push to have farmer-representatives in the trust fund management committee which will oversee the utilization of the fund.

He said the law should ensure that the farmers will have a formidable voice in deciding how the fund would be used in adherence to the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

Pangilinan said the funds will go a long way to shore up the industry long-forgotten and deprived despite its huge potential for growth.

“In 2019, our coconut farmers earned P143 a day, according to the 2021 National Expenditures Program. They are surely suffering more hardships now during the pandemic,” he said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe

PRESIDENT DUTERTE
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