The long wait may be over for the thousands of poor coconut farmers and their families fighting for their right to coconut levy funds as Congress passed on third reading House Bill 6135, or the substitute bill calling for the establishment of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.
“This has been a long time in coming. Our coconut farmers have fought for their right to access the coco levy funds for decades. It is high time they reap the benefits of their hard-earned money collected as coconut levy since 1975,” said Rep. Sharon Garin of AAMBIS- OWA partylist.
Garin noted that though the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 with finality that the coconut levy funds are “public funds,” there is still no cohesive measure regarding the use of such funds.
The coconut levy funds were taxes exacted from coconut farmers as mandated by Presidential Decree 755.
These taxes were supposedly meant for construction of projects designed for the benefit of coconut farmers but were instead used to buy a large percentage of the bank now known as United Coconut Planters Bank under Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.
Through the years, the funds have been used to diversify and acquire other assets, which are now targeted for privatization subject to recommendations of an ad hoc committee as created by the substitute bill.
In Garin’s original bill, she proposed the creation of a trust fund for coconut farmers and their families that include a social development fund that will guarantee the productivity income and employment drive of the government among farmers; and a marketing fund that will promote the varied products of individual coconut farmers, farmers’ cooperatives and small and medium-scale coconut enterprises.
Coconut remains one of the country’s top agricultural exports, earning as much as $1 billion annually.
“Unfortunately, the abundance of the earnings does not reflect on the lives of the poor coconut farmers, their families and the whole coconut industry,” Garin said.
“It is estimated that the coconut levy funds, inclusive of earnings, interests and other increments, have grown to some P200 billion by 2013. That is why it is most important that this substitute bill becomes a law so that our farmers will be able to reap the benefits of the [funds],” she added.
The Senate is set to approve on second reading the Senate version of the bill soon, according to the chamber’s Committee on Agriculture.