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Villar bats for passage of refiled coco levy bill

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Senator Cynthia Villar on Wednesday lobbied for the approval of a refiled bill seeking to establish the coco levy trust fund, over a year after it was vetoed by President Rodrigo Duterte in the 17th Congress.

"More than 5 months after vetoing the coconut levy trust fund bill, President Rodrigo Duterte again called for its passage into law in his 2019 State of the Nation Address," Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture, said in her sponsorship speech.

"The bill is now being refiled with some modifications, taking into consideration the inputs being suggested by the executive branch of government so it will not be vetoed for the sake of the coconut farmers," she added.

According to Senate Bill No. 1396, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund shall be managed and disbursed in accordance with a development plan which shall be implemented by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

"The plan shall set how the coconut industry will be rehabilitated in the next 99 years, which is the suggested life span of the Trust Fund. Although we can amend it if the target benefits to the coconut farmers have been reached," Villar said.

Programs which will increase the farm productivity of coconut farmers, establish coconut-based enterprises, and modernize the industry towards global competitiveness shall be included in the said plan.

A Board composed of various government agencies and representatives of coconut farmers from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao shall also join the PCA in this endeavor.

A Trust Fund Management Committee composed of representatives from the Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Justice shall also be created to ensure the "judicious use" of the coco levy fund.

Last year, the Palace said Duterte vetoed the coco levy bill for lack of mechanisms for checks and balances, making it prone to corruption.

The enactment of the said bill is seen to benefit 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country.

The estimated P105-billion coco levy fund in cash and assets were from the additional tax collections imposed to coconut farmers in the country under the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

It has been 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 P71-billion worth of coconut levy funds used to purchase shares in San Miguel Corporation during the Marcos years belongs to the government and as such, should be used solely for the benefit of coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III recently said the coco levy bill is among the priority measures to be tackled by the Senate before the session adjourns next week. —LDF, GMA News

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