MANILA – Senator Cynthia Villar on Monday assured the coconut farmers that they will directly benefit from Php100-billion coconut levy funds under the proposed Senate bills creating Coconut Farmers and Industry Fund (CFIF) or Trust Fund.
”Rest assured that the poorest sector in the country which are the coconut farmers will benefit from this bill. We will make sure this bill is really a good bill for you. Don’t doubt about it,” Villar assured the coconut farmers during the Senate hearing on two proposed bills.
Villar and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto filed two separate bills declaring the coco levy funds as public funds, providing the disposition of the coco levy assets and establishing the CFIF that will manage and utilize the funds.
During the public hearing, majority of the stakeholders supported the creation of the CFIF or Trust Fund that will pay for the implementation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.
”Under my bill only the annual interest amounting to Php2 to 3 billion pesos of the Php100 billion will be utilized for various projects such as scholarship to children of farmers, share facilities program, replanting, inter-cropping, livelihood and research and development,” Villar said.
The proposed measures also call for creation of CFIF Committee which shall be attached to the Office of the President to implement programs for the development of coconut industry and coconut farmers and will manage the utilization of the coco levy funds.
The bill proposes that the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) will serve as chairman but other resource persons suggest that it should be the President who should sit as chairman and relegate NEDA chief as vice-chairman.
The CFIF Committee will be composed of secretaries of Agriculture, Justice, Governance Commission for GOCCs, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator, PCGG chairman, national treasurer, two representatives from the private sector, and six representatives from duly accredited coconut farmers’ organizations.
Meanwhile, Villar welcomed the Supreme Court (SC) ruling releasing Php60B coco levy funds for the benefit of the 3.5 million coconut farmers in the country.
“This partial release of the Php100 billion fund is a step in the right direction. We congratulate the coconut farmers for this victory. With this amount, a trust fund can be created to bankroll programs that will directly benefit coconut farmers,” Villar said.
On Wednesday, seven magistrates, namely Chief Justice Loudes Sereno and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes, and Marvic Leonen unanimously voted for the immediate issuance of the judgment concerning SC’s Sept. 4, 2012 resolution, causing its execution.
The court in its 2012 decision, declared 753,848,312 San Miguel Corp. shares as public funds as they were acquired through taxes levied on coconut farmers during martial law.
“The coconut farmers who earn only P50 a day are the poorest in our country. The levy funds rightfully belongs to the farmers and should be used to improve their condition,” she said.
Various laws were enacted imposing a levy to coconut products from 1971 to 1986, resulting to substantial collections that accumulated to Php9.7 billion.
In 1986, the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) sequestered the coco levy funds, declaring the funds as a result of systematic means of acquiring ill-gotten wealth during the Marcos regime.
Villar said Php7 billion of the Php9.7 billion have been spent already while the remaining amount has accumulated to Php72 billion, excluding the Php30-billion worth of coco levy assets to be disposed under the proposed bills.
Due to conflicting estimates on the value of the “coco levy fund”, Recto has called for an audit to determine the present worth of the multibillion-peso fund.
“There are lots of numbers being bandied about. One estimate, reportedly from the Asset Privatization Trust, puts it at Php100 billion. One briefer presented by a financial institution computes it at Php73 billion. Government lawyers place it at Php60 billion. A Cabinet member says it’s P72 billion,” Recto said.
“Just today, we were told by the Presidential Commission on Good Government that the fund is in the neighborhood of Php80 billion,” Recto said.
The latter was the figure PCCG chair Andres Bautista told a Senate hearing as his agency’s appraisal of the fund’s present value.
Recto said only an audit by the Commission on Audit “can settle the confusion and present us with a clear picture on value, status, interests, income and assets of the fund.”