• Proposed coco levy trust fund moves to Senate plenary

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    A proposed measure allowing 3.5 million coconut farmers to benefit from the P75- billion coconut levy fund has moved closer towards enactment as Senator Francis Pangilinan sponsored the bill at the plenary level on Wednesday.

    Pangilinan, chair of the senate committee on agriculture and food, presented to the plenary Senate bill 1233 or “An Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for its Management and Utilization, and for Other Purposes.”

    The bill seeks to establish a trust fund to free the P75-billion coco levy fund for the benefit of coconut farmers and the industry since the levy was established over 40 years ago during the Marital Law years.

    “Today we sponsor the committee report on the bill, Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for its Management and Utilization, and for other Purposes,” Pangilinan said in his sponsorship speech.

    According to the senator, once the law is in place the country will be able to produce and export more value-added coconut products instead of mostly raw materials and coconut oil. He cited virgin coconut oil, coco sugar and coco milk.

    The trust fund will be perpetually maintained, with the initial funding to be sourced from the proceeds of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) shares that were bought with the coconut levy money and remittances from the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB).

    According to the draft bill, some P62.5 billion is available including the principal sum of P56.5 billion as well as P3.6 billion in interest, P854 million in SMC dividends and P1.48 billion in UCPB remittances.

    “The Trust Fund shall thereafter be augmented with all proceeds of privatization/disposition of the Coconut Levy Assets remitted directly thereto by the Privatization management office in accordance with this Act,” the bill stated.

    The bills tasks the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to do a complete accounting and inventory of the coconut levy assets that cover the amount, value, description and nature the funds, properties and assets related to the coconut levy fund. The PCGG will then submit a report on its findings to the Office of the President, the Committee, and the Commission on Audit.

    A key feature of the bill is the creation of a fund trustee or the Trust Fund Committee, with six of its eleven members coming from coconut farmers or their representatives. It will be chaired by the secretary of Finance and co-chaired by the secretary of Agriculture.

    The bill also specifies the creation of a Coconut Development Plan ensuring the active participation of coconut farmers at every stage of the law’s implementation.

    Sixteen senators from the Senate committees on Agriculture and Food and Finance signed and approved committee report.

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