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House seeks OK of substitute bill creating coconut farmers, industry trust fund

By Charissa Luci-Atienza

The House Committee on Food and Agriculture is eyeing to approve next week a substitute bill seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.

The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN)

(MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga of the 1st district of Quezon said his panel will tackle the substitute bill, which is a consolidation of 16 measures.

“We have scheduled our committee hearing on the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund next week, Feb. 18 to deliberate the proposed substitute bill,” he told the Manila Bulletin in a text message.

“We remain hopeful that this will be approved on Feb. 18 and that a corresponding committee report will be transmitted to the plenary for debates,” Enverga added.

Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA), chairman of the technical working group (TWG) that consolidated 16 coconut levy fund bills, earlier disclosed that a consolidated measure seeking the creation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund has been submitted to the Enverga panel for its consideration and approval.

She said they are closely coordinating with the Executive branch to ensure that the consolidated draft of the bill does not contain the controversial provisions that prodded President Duterte to veto the pro-farmers’ measure in February last year.

Enverga, one of the principal authors, expressed optimism that the House leadership will immediately calendar the measure for plenary debates and approval, considering that it is a priority measure of President Duterte and the Lower Chamber.

“If so approved, it will depend on the Committee on Rules. But, given that this is a priority of President R. Duterte and Speaker Allan Cayetano it would definitely be immediately scheduled,” he said when asked if the plenary deliberation on the bill is expected this month.

The House leader earlier said his panel will pass an “acceptable” measure that aims to address the veto message of President Duterte and the concerns of all concerned stakeholders.

In a letter addressed to the House of Representatives on February 14, 2019, President Duterte said the coco levy fund bill, which seeks the creation of a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers, “may be violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past.”

The Chief Executive said the creation of an “effectively perpetual” trust fund is in violation of a constitutional provision which provides that money collected from tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only, referring to Article IV Section 29(3) of the 1987 Constitution.

The President also opposed the broad powers given to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), particularly its authority over the sale, disposition, or dissolution of coco levy assets.

Cayetano, one of the principal authors of the bill, earlier said the passage of the coco levy fund bill would be the Lower Chamber’s “expression of solidarity with the coconut farmers and their loved ones.”

“Now is the season for them to truly feel the assistance of a government that will bring bold solutions and swift actions for genuine change,” he said.

The Bureau of Treasury reported to the Enverga panel that as of July, 2019, the coco levy fund is pegged at P76,363,780,049.43 while the coconut levy assets are worth P300 billion, according to Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Reynold Munsayac.

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