HB 4900 PROPOSES ‘BETTER’ TRUST FUND FOR COCONUT FARMERS
Some three and a half million coconut farmers and workers who are beneficiaries of the coconut levy funds will have an estimated P200 billion worth of financial protection with the passage of House Bill 4900 filed by AAMBIS-Owa Party list Representative Sharon Garin.
Already referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Food, House Bill 4900 or the proposed Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Act aims to create a trust fund for the benefit of small coconut farmers and farm workers who shouldered coconut levy collected during the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
“House Bill 4900 proposes a better trust fund as it unequivocally specifies the purposes for which the Trust Fund shall be established such as social, marketing, and development fund,” Former Philippine Coconut Authority Chairman Jose Romero, Jr. said.
“Scholarships, pension plans, educational assistance, health and life insurance coverage, and credit and investment facilities are just some of the benefits that every coconut farmer will enjoy if the trust fund proposed by Congresswoman Garin will be set up for farmers,” Romero added.
The proposed measure stemmed from the clamor of major coconut farmers’ organizations for a new law that will create a mechanism that will ensure that the coco levy money is used for their benefits.
In its July 9, 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court after decades of litigation upheld the dual-ownership character of the funds, ruling the fund is owned both by the government and by the coconut farmers. The funds should be used for the benefit of marginalized coconut farmers and workers, the Supreme Court ruled further.
Even before the high court’s latest ruling, national coconut farmer organizations like the Philippine Association of Small Coconut Farmers Organizations and the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Samahang Magsasaka at Manggagawa sa Niyugan expressed their favor of setting up a trust fund for farmers’ benefit, (October 9, 2012 issue of the Business Mirror).
If HB 4900 becomes law, a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund Council will be created to administer the fund. The Council shall be composed of the President of the Philippines as Chairman and 17 other members.
Of the 17 members, four (4) will be from coconut farmers’ organizations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and two (2) will come from non-governmental organizations involved in rural development.
Rep. Garin is set to meet soon with coconut farmers groups and the Philippine Coconut Administration (PCA) to iron out details of the trust fund mechanism.
Meanwhile, Coconut Industry Reform (COIR) Movement Executive Director Jose Marie Faustino believes every group claims to propose a ‘better’ measure for coconut farmers.
“Amidst all these, all stakeholders must remain vigilant to prevent a rerun of what happened during the Marcos regime where farmers’ money was stolen right under them,” Faustino added. /MP