By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Three years into presidency, President Rodrigo Duterte is still yet to deliver his promise to release to the coconut sector the controversial coco levy fund, which is now estimated to have grown to around more than P100 billion.
Former agriculture secretary William Dar said that by now, the coconut farmers should already be benefiting from the fund and that Duterte’s promise is “long overdue”.
The coco levy fund is the taxes excessively collected by the Marcos administration and its cronies from coconut farmers.
Last week, Duterte vetoed the Coco Levy Act, which would have paved the way for the fund’s much anticipated release.
“This is long overdue. The coconut farmers must now benefit from the levy that has been there for quite some time now,” Dar said. “I can see the effort of the government [to pass this law] but they have to properly respond to the programs that coconut farmers think need some attention”.
In deciding to veto the bill, Duterte thinks the law gives too much power to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the government agency that will be tasked to handle the controversial fund.
He also thinks the bill does not give preferential treatment to small coconut farmers owning five hectares or less, and that it shouldn’t be a perpetual fund.
When sought for reaction, PCA Administrator Romulo Dela Rosa said his agency “submits fully to the wisdom of the President as outlined in his veto letter to Congress”.
He added, however, that there is a need to fast-track the passage of this law since it has been four decades since the coconut farmers have started their campaign to recover the levy.
The next Congress, according to him, should prioritize this measure.
“The mind of the PCA board was that the levy bill was far from perfect.
However, the bill’s weaknesses could easily be corrected through policy which the board can pass. Given that six out of the proposed 15 members of the board are farmers, their collective voice within the board holds a lot of weight,” Dela Rosa said.
He was referring to the reconstitution of the PCA Board once the coco levy act took effect.
In August, the proposed measure already made it through the bicameral but some senators requested to recall the bill since some Cabinet secretaries questioned the planned structure of the PCA Board, which will be tasked to handle the funds.