SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
After more than four decades, the country’s coconut farmers may finally enjoy the fruits of the coco levy as the Congress ratified two legislative measures that institutionalize the system on how to plow the P76-billion fund back to farmers.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday ratified the bicameral committee report on House Bill 5745 or “An Act Establishing the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund (CIDTF), Providing for its Management and Utilization.”
On the same day, the House also ratified the bicameral committee report on House Bill 8552 or “An Act Further Strengthening the Philippine Coconut Authority.”
The coco levy bill is authored by House committee on agriculture and food chairman Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr., Deputy Speaker Sharon Garin, Reps. Karlo Alexei Nograles, Angelina Tan, and Feliciano Belmonte, among others.
The PCA bill, on the other hand, is authored by Panganiban, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Reps. Ramon Rocamora, Raul del Mar, Deputy Speaker Arthur Yap, and Rep. Edcel Lagman, among others.
Majority Leader Rolando Andaya, Jr. described the approval of the twin measures as "timely and necessary" given the continuous decline in the price of copra, a major issue facing the coconut sector for the past years.
“Copra used to sell over P40 per kilograms a few years back. Now, prices have plummeted to as low as P20 per kilogram. Paano pa mabubuhay ang mga magsasaka ng niyog niyan?” Andaya pointed out.
“More than ever, now is the time to rush to the aid of this dying industry. The price of copra in the world market is falling to dangerously low levels. The coco levy fund is a lifeline that will not only help our coconut farmers survive; it could make the coconut industry a viable one once more,” the House leader added.
The coco levy bill mandates the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry and Trust Fund (CITF), which shall be for the ultimate benefit of coconut farmers and the coconut industry.
The measure grants a reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority the powers to supervise and manage the money and the new Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.
The board of PCA is now composed of eight government agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry, Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Six farmer representatives will also compose the board, including two each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Another representative from the coconut processing industry sector will also be included, comprising the total of 15 representations in the council.
The coco levy funds have been stuck in court disputes until 2012, when the Supreme Court awarded the shares bought with the coco levy funds to the government to be used for coconut farmers and the industry.
According to the PCA, there are currently 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 coconut producing provinces with the average annual income of P15,000, or about P41 a day. It was also reported that the coconut industry is suffering from a decline in production. Coconut lands cover 30% of the country's total agricultural area.
Aside from helping farmers ride out low copra price cycle, the coco levy measure also aims to improve incomes of coconut farmers, who are the among the poorest, and improve productivity of farms, though replanting and intercropping with high yield cash crop.
Other salient features of the coco levy bill include:
• Removal of the fixed term on the life of the fund, as both the Senate and the House agreed to allow the existence of the bill until the fund runs out.
• Setting aside every year PhP 5 billion for the next 25 years or until the fund runs out as the yearly amount to be drawn from the coco levy fund, which will be spent on the following:
-- 30% for shared facilities,
-- 15% for scholarship program,
-- 15% for empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives,
-- 30% for farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency and,
-- 10% for health and medical benefits.
• Provision for an automatic appropriation of P10 billion to the annual budget of the PCA from the GAA to augment the coconut farmers and development fund, increase the income, and support PCA’s developmental activities. The amount will be allocated as follows:
-- 20% for infrastructure program (farm-to-market roads),
-- 20% for planting, replanting, and establishment of hybrid coconut nurseries,
-- 10% for intercropping,
-- 15% for shared facilities,
-- 10% for research and development, coconut disease prevention, control, and eradication
-- 5% for fertilization,
-- 5% for new products and all derivatives of coconut oil, and marketing,
-- 10% for credit through Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, and
-- 5% for training of farmers through TESDA.