Bicam to approve final version of coco levy bill

MANILA Senator Cynthia Villar on Wednesday said the bicameral conference committee on PHP100-billion coconut levy trust fund will be held on August 1, heeding President Rodrigo Duterte's call for Congress to pass the bill "at the soonest possible time."

"I urge you Congress to convene the (bicameral) conference committee and pass at the soonest possible time the bill establishing the coconut farmers' trust fund. I pray that you will do it," Duterte said in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday.

The House of Representatives approved its version on third and final reading in September last year while the Senate approved a counterpart bill last March.

The bicameral conference committee is needed to reconcile disagreeing provisions of the two versions.

Villar expressed optimism that members the bicam panel will be able to find a common ground despite substantial differences between the Senate and House versions.

Besides Villar, who heads the Senate bicam panel, other members include Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero, and Joseph Victor Ejercito.

On the other hand, the House of Representatives panel is composed of Representatives Sharon Garin, Jose Panganiban, Jericho Nograles, Celso Lobregat, Manuel Sagarbarria, Edcel Lagman, Evelina Escudero, Angelina Helen Tan, Conrado Estrella III, and Cecilia Leonila Chavez

It will not be very difficult to convince our colleagues to agree on provisions that will make sure that benefits from the coconut levy fund will be protected, maximized and will go directly to the 3.5 million coconut farmers themselves, Villar said in a media release on the Senate website.

Villar has been vigorously pushing for the enactment of Senate Bill 1233, or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, to implement the urgently needed reforms in the sector.

The bill seeks to address the need to allow the sustainable development of the coconut industry as it has the highest potential for growth through productivity enhancement, diversification, and industry value-adding.

Based on the information gathered from her consultations with industry stakeholders, Villar has introduced provisions safeguarding the coconut levy funds and making its earnings available to support the livelihoods of small coconut farmers.

She also introduced a provision that will mandate the investment of the trust fund 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, I strongly feel 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.

Villar also introduced amendments to make sure that the Philippine Coconut Authority will have a yearly appropriation in the General Appropriations Act to fund programs for the development of the coconut industry.

Villar made amendments in the bill that will promote the propagation of hybrid coconut seedlings; intensive effort on inter-cropping of alternative farm crops; livestock raising; and the establishment of Coconut Industry Farm Schools in every coconut producing province.

We are very hopeful that with these safeguards and reforms in place, we can finally see the day when poverty incidence is no longer the highest among our coconut farmers, she said.

We remain true to our commitment to improve the lives of our coconut farmers. Our commitment is to pass carefully-crafted laws that will benefit coconut farmers in the long term, Villar said. (Senate PR)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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