Stakeholders differ on coco levy management

MANILA-- Stakeholders are divided on the management of the about Php 75 billion coconut levy fund.

Charlie Avila, executive director and spokesperson of the Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines (CONFED), during the "Usapang Sakahan" forum on Tuesday, said the management of the coco levy fund and assets were best ascertained and guaranteed through the establishment of a "corporate management" rather than a mere "committee".

"There is a great need to constitute by law the coconut levy funds and assets more explicitly into a Coconut Industry Trust Fund (CITF) to ensure that its use will develop the coconut industry to the benefit of the farmers," said Avila.

He noted that a public trust fund of the magnitude of the coco levy funds and assets "will surely need not a mere committee, but a full-fledged government-owned corporation that has the requisite characteristics of stability, flexibility, autonomy, transparency, accountability and therefore the capacity for good and effective governance."

Avila said that a mere committee "can never exhibit the properties of such a corporation but can easily be subject to the politics and vagaries of partisan desire and approval."

However, coconut farmers believe that the formulation of a committee is more favorable to them and the industry as they will have participation in decision-making rather than in a corporation.

The Senate bill proposed an 11-man committee would be formed, to be headed by the secretaries of finance and agriculture, with majority of members composed of coconut farmers.

Jansept Geronimo, a representative of coconut farmers organization, said the passage of the creation of a coconut trust fund by Congress would pave the way for the release of the funds that would benefit the industry and the more than 3.5 million coconut farmers nationwide.

At present, the coco levy trust fund bill is pending in the 17th Congress. The measure still has a long way to go in both chambers. It is now in the period of interpellation and amendments in the Senate while it is still at the committee level in the House of Representatives.

Earlier in 2015, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that prevented the effectivity and implementation of two executive issuances (EOs 179 and 180) by then President Benigno Aquino III relevant to the use of the assets.

Later the government and CONFED resolved a legal issue that may lead to the utilization of the coco levy fund.

Avila said they were willing to withdraw their petition which prompted the Supreme Court to issue a TRO that further stalled the roll-out of these funds.

"We in CONFED believe that we have at last a government that means business for the benefit of coconut farmers and the development of the industry. We are willing to withdraw our petition before the Court to give PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority) a freer hand in governance," he said.

The Php 75-billion fund had been locked for decades in court disputes as to its ownership until the High Tribunal ruled in 2012 on the public character of the fund.

Stakeholders urged President Rodrigo Duterte to certify the proposed measure on coco levy as urgent for the development of the industry.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. has said they had already issued the certification in December 2016.

"We have written a letter to Congress through the PLLO (Presidential Legislative Liaison Office) certifying it as urgent," he said. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency

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