There are two bills at the center of the coconut levy fund dilemma: the Strengthened Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Law, which aims to reconstruct the PCA, and the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, which would allocate coco levy funds to coconut farmers.
To understand why these two bills matter so much, it all boils down to the Coco Levy Fund scam of the Marcos era, which taxed coconut farmers a questionable amount that ballooned to almost P150 billion in assets. The farming sector is now seeking to correct this mistake by pushing for the money to be returned to the farmers through these bills.
What is the Strengthened Philippine Coconut Authority bill (Senate Bill No. 1976)? It would reorganize the PCA board so that it would be composed of civilians and government persons: six coconut farmers, one coconut industry representative, and eight government officials. This board would be responsible for managing and allocating the coco levy funds, which are the focus of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.
What is the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act (Senate Bill No. 1233)? The twin to the PCA bill, this would distribute a coco levy fund worth P75 billion. This is in line with the Supreme Court ruling of 2012 that declared the funds must only benefit the coconut farming industry.
Where did the money come from? The P75 billion coco levy fund was collected via taxes from coconut farmers during the Marcos Regime, however, they ended up in the hands of Marcos cronies rather than used for the benefit of the farmers.
Why did Duterte veto both bills? Duterte vetoed the PCA bill on Feb. 8 because it lacked “vital safeguards” that would prevent past mistakes from being repeated. According to Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri, “Malacañang doesn’t like how majority of the group that handles the funds are civilians,” as the fund is being treated as a government fund. This is the same reason he vetoed the coco levy fund bill on Feb. 14.
How are these two bills linked? The first proposed law would be directly responsible for carrying out the second proposed law. As the PCA would be the entity tasked with this responsibility, without the PCA law, the coco levy funds would not be distributed to farmers.
What does Duterte have to say? “After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the bill may be violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past,” he said on Feb. 18.
What do coconut farmers have to say? Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) criticize the move as excluding “the farmer’s majority representatives from the council that was originally tasked to decide the disposition of the coco levy fund,” says Jansept Geronimo, spokesperson of the group.
Where does this leave us? When bills are vetoed, they’re returned to the Senate and the House in order to be revised and submitted again for signing. This sets back progress on the coco levy fund distribution indefinitely as coconut farmers still await restitutive justice.
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