PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the release of some P60 billion worth of coconut levy funds to farmers, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol bared.
In a news briefing, Piñol said the President issued the order for the Department of Agriculture and the
Presidential Legislative Liaison Office to work with Congress on legislation to release to the farmers, in whatever form, the P60-billion coconut levy funds now with the National Treasury.
Discussion with lawmakers are expected next month, the Cabinet official said.
The so-called coco levy funds, totaling P73 billion, were taxes exacted from coconut farmers mandated by Marcos Presidential Decree 755 in 1975.
The money was supposedly for projects that would benefit coconut farmers, but was instead used to buy a large stake in the bank now known as United Coconut Planters Bank under businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.
Piñol said government agencies tasked to handle the coco levy fund would study how the amount would be distributed to farmers.
“Hopefully, before the end of the year [the law will be passed],” he said, adding that he expected little opposition to the measure.
Piñol also said he had suggested to President Duterte to use the bigger part of the coco levy fund for the rehabilitation and expansion of the coconut industry.
“It means replanting in areas devastated by ‘cocolisap’ and measures to stop it from further spreading in major coconut-producing areas in Mindanao,” he said, citing pest infestations in Basilan and Zamboanga.
Piñol said he had requested an initial P10 million to deal with the infestation in Basilan, which has declared a state of calamity.
“If not addressed, the cocolisap infestation could setback our coconut industry by about five years,” he said.
Coconuts are among the country’s top agricultural exports, earning as much as $1 billion annually.