Duterte vetoes Coconut Farmers Industry and Trust Fund bill - Medialdea

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

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 15) — Both bills recently submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte on doling out the coco levy funds to farmer beneficiaries have now been vetoed.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed Friday night that Duterte has vetoed the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund.

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. A part of the funds was allegedly siphoned to corporations of alleged cronies of the late President.

The bill aimed to create a trust fund for the coco levy money that will be managed by a team to be composed of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Budget and Management, a coconut industry stakeholder, and six coconut farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao with two representatives each.

It also included a provision that ₱100 billion taken from coconut levy fund will be invested in government securities. The proceeds will be returned to coconut farmers.

However, the trust fund is anchored on the assumption that the bill reconstituting the PCA to the abovementioned lineup would be approved. The bill was vetoed by Duterte last week.

"While the Enrolled Bill is in the common legislative agenda of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, the provisions of the bill do not reflect our ultimate goal of accelerating the further utilization of coco levy assets and funds for the benefit of our marginalized coconut farmers and the coconut industry," Duterte said in the veto message last week.

READ: Duterte asks Congress to redraft bill strengthening PCA to include 'more safeguards'

On the Philippine Coconut Authority bill, Senate committee on agriculture chair Cynthia Villar said that she was told that it lacked "vital safeguards."

"In the coming days, I hope to be enlightened more on why the President believes the measure lacked 'vital safeguards' and will work with him to improve this bill," Villar said.

READ: Villar: Duterte said vetoed Philippine Coconut Authority bill lacks 'vital safeguards'

On the trust fund bill, Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri had previously said that it was in danger of being vetoed. Based on his previous discussion with Malacañang, this was also based on the composition of the PCA.

"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 are treating it as government fund," Zubiri 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 how majority of the group that handles the funds are civilians.]

Duterte had previously said, when he appointed retired Air Force Chief Lieutenant General Galileo Kintanar as the new PCA head that he wanted someone he can trust in the agency.

"So when the time comes and I can get the mechanism on how the money will be distributed to the beneficiaries and I look for someone na ang pera ng Pilipino ay di mawawala, it shall be the retired Gen. Kintanar," Duterte said.