Coco Levy Funds Bill: Farmers back Nograles, reject Garin version

For Immediate Release, Manila, 7 July 2017 

In one regional consultation after another not just for the farmers but by the farmers themselves March to April 2017 – from Southern Tagalog to the Bicol Region, from Eastern Visayas to the Central and Western Visayas Regions, from Muslim Mindanao to the Zamboanga Peninsula, from Central Mindanao to the Caraga and Davao Regions culminating in one national gathering at Davao City attended by some PCA officials and the Secretary of Agriculture, no less, the verdict came clear and unanimous. The coconut farmers reject the Garin-Pangilinan version and strongly back the Nograles-Romero-Lobregat version of the draft law providing for the proper utilization and disposition of the coco levy funds in consonance with Supreme Court doctrine.

“The Garin-Pangilinan version is merely a rehash of the PNoy E.O.’s which were challenged by the farmers and restrained by the Supreme Court,” according to Efren Villasenor, National Chairman of the CONFED, the confederation of the three biggest national federations  of coconut farmers’ organizations nationwide –  the Philippine Association of Small Coconut Farmers’ Organizations, the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Samahang Magsasaka at Manggagawa sa Niyugan, the Coconut Producers’ Federation and their many allied farmers’ organizations representing  more than ninety-five percent of the organized coconut farmer sector in the country.

“The Garin version is more a privatization bill than a law for the establishment of a genuine trust fund,” he added.

More concretely, Villasenor said that “the so-called trust fund into which the coco levy funds shall be poured is weakened from the start in the Garin-Pangilinan version as it wants to have it managed by a mere committee, which surely can easily be influenced by the vagaries of the politics-of-the-moment rather than the genuine lasting interest of the coconut farmers and the industry. Can you imagine an analogous trust fund of the workers being managed by a mere committee rather than GOCC’s like the SSS and the GSIS? Had they not been corporate-managed but merely committee-managed they would have vanished into thin air ages ago. That may have been the intention in the PNoy regime when he issued the assailed E.O.’s but we don’t think that is the present intention of the Duterte administration. ”

By contrast, according to Villasenor, “Duterte can be proud and should manifest full support for his own Congressman’s version. It is the Davao Rep. Karlo Nograles version, originally named HB No.62, co-authored by his brother Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta PBA Partylist Rep. Jericho Nograles, and similarly filed by Partylist Rep. Mike Romero and Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat. It is the kind that assures farmers of a true lasting trust fund.”

Ka Charlie Avila, CONFED’s Executive Director, likewise explained why the coconut farmers are backing the Nograles version. “Nograles profoundly understands the philosophy of the supreme Court decision. The coco levy fund does not have one absolute owner. Government is merely ‘Trust’ owner; the real beneficial owners or ‘Trustors’ are all the coconut farmers. It is owned by the government to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.’  [See G.R.Nos.177857-58 and G.R. No.178193 in the dispositive portion.]”

According to Avila, Nograles got it right when he recently said that the High Court raised the need to have an administrative mechanism to ensure that the coco levy funds are managed prudently and properly, that they be used exclusively for the benefit of all the coconut fields and the development of the coconut industry but there should be a clear mechanism by which this fund would be used prudently and properly. Nograles had earlier said that the SC ruling did not provide specific guidelines for the management and use of the coco levy funds and this is the reason why Congress must pass a law which would address this need.

Avila added that in fairness to all legislators, it is clear that they will not veer away from constituting the coco levy funds and assets into a Coconut Industry Trust Fund. There is unanimity here, including the Garin and Nograles versions,  to constitute the coconut levy funds and assets explicitly into a Coconut Industry Trust Fund (CITF), by law, and provide the administrative structure, also by law, that will manage the trust funds and ensure that its use will benefit the coconut industry and the coconut farmers.

Villasenor’s plaint in unanimity with all the CONFED’s provincial and regional leaders is why the Garin-Pangilinan stubbornly insists on a mere committee as the management entity. “A public trust fund of the magnitude of the coconut levy funds and assets will 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. A mere committee can never exhibit the properties of such a corporation but can easily be subject to the politics and vagaries of express momentary political approval and desire,” Villasenor emphasized.

He reminded legislators that: “When the ‘Coconut Investment Act’ or R.A. 6260 was enacted in 19 June 1971 with the avowed policy of aiding the development of the coconut industry through the establishment of a Coconut Investment Fund or ‘CIF’ it stipulated in the same law that not a passing committee but a more permanent Coconut Investment Company or ‘CIC’ be established to manage that Fund. One could expect nothing less. Similarly today, one can expect nothing less than the Nograles version to pass as test in the consistency and sincerity of the proposed trust fund law. The Judiciary did its job by proclaiming the spirit of the true ownership of the funds and assets. If he who wills the end must will the means, it is now up to the Legislature to give that spirit a functioning body in the Nograles-proposed Corporation.” FINIS