THE House committee handling a proposed coconut levy trust fund bill has been urged to start working on the measure that would pave the way for immediate release of the P75-billion fund for the benefit of 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said his committee already concluded hearings on the trust fund bill in September and it is set to come up with a report to be presented in plenary.
Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez had said a law is needed to release the fund collected from coconut farmers during the martial law years.
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the coconut levy fund is public fund and awarded it to the government solely for the development of the coconut industry.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd in March 2015 signed two Executive Orders (EO)– 179 and 180–which provided guidelines that will govern the inventory, transfer, reconveyance and disposition of coconut levy fund and coconut levy asset and administrative guidelines for the reconveyance and utilization of such assets, respectively.
But the Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the two EOs after a petition was filed by the Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines Inc..
The petitioner claimed the enforcement of the two orders would result in the plunder of the coconut levy fund.
The P75-billion fund is already with the national treasury and cannot be spent without congressional approval or a new law.
The needed legislation, according to Pangilinan, requires prompt action of both Houses of the Congress.
“We should not keep our farmers waiting much longer. This is something that is more than 40 years late,” the senator said.
During a hearing of the Pangilinan committee on the proposed coconut levy trust fund bill, the Presidential
Commission on Good Government gave an update on the status of the P75.354-billion fund.
Cash of P62.5 billion is broken down into principal at P56.5 billion, interest at P3.6 billion, San Miguel Corp. share dividends at P854 million and remittance from the United Coconut Planters Bank at P1.48 billion.
A total of P12.847 billion in government securities is broken down into principal at P12.33 billion and interest at P515.3 million.
The Duterte administration has recognized that the monies cannot be distributed to the farmers as it had promised during the election campaign because those who contributed to the levy fund more than 40 years ago cannot be determined anymore, among other reasons.
In separate statements, Dominguez and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said the TRO issued by the Supreme Court is preventing Malacañang from using and distributing the fund.
Earlier, according to Piñol, the President ordered the Department of Agriculture and the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office to release some P60 billion worth of coconut levy fund to the farmers.