"Let us help our coconut farmers sustain their livelihood."
Early this week, we welcomed the good news that the coco levy trust fund bill has hurdled the third and final reading in the Senate with its unanimous approval. Recall that the coco levy trust fund bill was initially vetoed by the President during the 17th Congress. This new version hopes to address the reservations accompanying the previously filed bill. While there is progress in the Senate, we are still held up in Congress as the House version of the bill remains at the Committee level.
The legislative journey of the coco levy bill can be likened to the long history of the coco levy funds. Several bills have been filed through the years. Last Congress, I joined my colleagues in Congress in filing this bill. It finally saw light when the two Houses of Congress passed the bill. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the President. We did not stop there. Under former President and then-Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo we re-filed an amended version to respond to the veto, approved it, and transmitted it to the Senate. However, Congress adjourned before it was passed.
I want to reiterate the significance of this coco levy trust fund. As I have said many times before, the coconut industry needs our support. Now, in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, our coconut farmers are in dire need of assistance to recover from their losses due to the months-long dormancy and difficulty in getting products through the market. Thankfully, domestic copra farmgate and millgate prices have increased from last year, but there remains a lot to achieve.
For one, we have entered the rainy season which means there are once again risks of damages from strong typhoons and biological pests. Second, there is still the need to develop more resilient and high-value crops for our farmers. Research must be furthered and financed in order to produce innovations that will help coconut farming be more sustainable and profitable.
Among the high-value products, virgin coconut oil is being studied and used as a potential supplemental treatment for COVID-19. Coconut trees are also used to manufacture ethyl alcohol that is much needed today to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The benefits of the coconut are immeasurable, but the support we are giving to the industry would not be commensurate if we prolong the journey of this bill.
Hence, I call on Congress to immediately act on the coco levy bill. We are in a pandemic where we must support those in need as much as we can. Let us help our coconut farmers to sustain their livelihood by finally allowing the utilization of the coconut levy trust fund to their benefit. In this regard, not only do we facilitate the timely return of the fruits of their labor, but also provide and address their immediate needs in this crisis.