Sotto: Duterte vetoed bill strengthening Philippine Coconut Authority

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FILE PHOTO An indigent farmer, carrying firewood, walks past the Marcos Monument, January 01, 1986

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 8) — President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed the proposed law meant to distribute the coconut levy funds to farmers.

In a letter read aloud at the Senate plenary session Friday, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the President has vetoed the version of the bill that was ratified by both houses of Congress.

"We respectfully transmit herewith the veto message of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on consolidated enrolled Senate Bill number 1976, House Bill number 8522… virtually yours Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea," the letter read.

Sotto added that the veto message attached to the letter was signed by Duterte, but it was not read at the Senate session.

The Senate Bill 1976 or an Act to further strengthen the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) was among the legislative priorities cited by Duterte in his 2018 State of the Nation address. The proposed law was meant to give farmers more representation in the PCA, which manages the disposition or utilization of long withheld coconut levy funds to farmers.

READ: Duterte cites as urgent laws on coco levy and rice imports

The coconut levy fund was taken from a tax imposed on coconut farmers by the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos for the development of the coconut industry. Part of the funds were allegedly siphoned to corporations of alleged cronies of the late president.

Both houses of Congress, convening as a bicameral committee, had initially come up with a consolidated version of the bill in August 2018.

However, President Duterte told House Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri that the bill could be vetoed unless changes were made.

"Ang ayaw kasi ng Malacañang na pinagusapan namin, majority ng grupo na maghahawak ng pondo ay civilians kasi sabi nila the funds, although it's the fund of the farmers, is in trust with the government so parang they're treating it as government fund," he said.

[Translation:While the funds are for the farmers, it's entrusted to the government so it seems like they're treating it as a government fund. Malacañang doesn't like that majority of the group that handles the funds are civilians.]

READ: Coco Levy Trust Fund bill in danger of getting vetoed -- Zubiri

The bill was then amended and a new ratified version was submitted to Duterte late last year to avoid being vetoed. It was not immediately clear what provisions of the amended bill Duterte found objectionable.

On December 21, Duterte had sought for the resignation of the board of directors of the Philippine Coconut Authority and appointed retired Air Force Chief Galileo Kintanar to head the agency.

He said that the move was meant to prepare for the passage of the bill to disburse the coconut levy funds.

READ: Duterte picks retired Air Force Chief Kintanar to head Philippine Coconut Authority