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Coconut levy trust fund measure passes second reading in House

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on second reading the measure seeking to establish a coco levy trust fund, which is seen to benefit farmers and develop the coconut industry.

In a voice vote, the chamber approved on second reading House Bill 8136, or the proposed "Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act".

Quezon Representative Mark Enverga, who sponsored the measure, has explained that the use of the trust fund will be in accordance with the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

Enverga is also the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture.

He added that under this plan, directions and policies for the development and rehabilitation of the coconut industry will be set within a period of 99 years, with the goal to increase incomes of coconut farmers, to alleviate poverty and promote social equity, and to rehabilitate and modernize industry towards farm productivity.

"Our coconut farmers are in dire need of help yet the money could not be touched as there has to be a law passed by Congress before it could be used for the purpose it was intended," Enverga said.

The coco levy fund in cash and assets, estimated to amount to around P100 billion, was generated from the additional tax collections imposed on coconut farmers under the administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

It was allegedly invested in enterprises for the personal interests of the late dictator and his cronies.

After Marcos was dislodged from power in 1986, local coconut farmers sought the assistance of the Presidential Commission on Good Government in filing court cases to refund their investment.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that at least P71-billion worth of coconut levy funds used to purchase shares in San Miguel Corporation during the Marcos years belonged to the government and as such, should be used solely for the benefit of coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.

Back in the 17th Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives approved the first version bill creating the coco levy trust fund, targeted to help coconut farmers and protect their socio-economic well-being.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, vetoed the measure, saying that the bill was unconstitutional due to supposed lack of safeguards and concerns it may violate the Constitution.

The House eventually approved another version of the bill towards the end of the 17th Congress, but it did not get the same approval from the Senate.

The President, during his fifth State of the Nation Address in July, called on Congress anew to pass the coconut levy trust fund bill.

The Senate in October passed on third and final reading its version of the coconut levy trust fund measure. -NB, GMA News