Senate has approved on second reading the bill creating the coconut industry trust fund, which Senator Cynthia Villar says, addresses the decades-old issue surrounding the coconut levy fund and how it can be used for the benefit of 3.5-million coconut farmers in the country.
On March 12, Senate approved SB 1233 or An Act Creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, Providing for its Management and Utilization, and for Other Purposes during its plenary session on March 12. It is supposed to act on the bill at Third Reading today March 19.
“We are confident that with safeguards and reforms in place, we can finally see the day when poverty incidence is no longer the highest among our coconut farmers,” Villar said, adding that a coconut farmer earns on the average, P50 a day.
During the period of individual amendments on the bill, Villar has introduced provisions in the bill to safeguard the P100-billion coconut levy funds composed of cash and assets and to ensure increased income for all coconut farmers.
The chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture and Food pushed for the inclusion of a provision that will mandate “the investment of the trust fund principal only in Philippine government securities to ensure the safety of the fund and for assured returns.”
“In terms of the deployment of the trust fund for investment purposes, this representation strongly feels that as a business woman, investing in stocks, commodities, futures and options would be very risky for a trust fund that is endowed with public interest, even where the services of fund managers are engaged,” she said.
She also pushed for the earmarking of the income or interest earning of the trust fund to the following programs: a. Shared facilities program, 35 percent; b. Scholarship program, 15 percent; c. Empowerment of coconut farmer organizations and their cooperatives, 15 percent; and d. Farm improvements (to encourage self-sufficiency), 35 percent.
Villar also supported the amendment of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto to do away with a trust committee which will decide on the investment of the fund as this will only resurrect the failed Coconut Industry Investment Fund.
She added that an increased representation of coconut farmers in the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority will ensure that the protection of farmers’ interest is the paramount consideration in the agency’s decision-making process.
The Nacionalista Party senator also introduced amendments to make sure that the PCA will have a yearly appropriation in the General Appropriations Act to fund programs for the development of the coconut industry.
The amended version provides that the PCA will have a mandated appropriation of not less than P10 billion to augment the coconut farmers and development fund, increase the income of coconut farmers and support the developmental activities of the PCA.
Said amount will be allocated as follows: a. Infrastructure program (farm-to-market roads), 20%; b. Planting and replanting, 20%; c. Intercropping, 10%; d. Shared facilities, 20%; e. Research and development, 10%; f. Fertilization, 5%; g. New products and marketing, 5%; and h. Credit through Landbank and Development Bank of the Philippines, 10%.
Villar also added amendments in the bill that will promote the propagation of hybrid coconut seedlings that can produce 150 nuts per year per tree, intensive effort on inter-cropping of alternative farm crops such as cacao, coffee and banana; livestock raising; and the establishment of Coconut Industry Farm Schools in every coconut producing province to support and enlarge the trained human resource pool of coconut farmers by the PCA and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
“Of the 8 million crop farmers in the Philippines, 3.5 million are rice farmers and 3.5 million are coconut farmers. They comprise 90% of all the crop farmers in the Philippines. So if you solve the problem of the rice farmer and the coconut farmer, we solve the problem of majority of our farmers,” Villar said.