House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. (File photo)

MANILA – House of Representatives Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Saturday lauded President Rodrigo R. Duterte for signing into law a measure creating a trust fund for coconut farmers. 

Velasco said the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 11524 or the Coconut Farmer and Industry Act is a “monumental moment” for some 3.5 million coconut farmers, who own not more than five hectares of farmland, from 68 coconut-producing provinces as they have long been “denied of the fund that rightfully belongs to them.”

“We express our sincerest gratitude to President Duterte for signing into law this landmark legislation that would create a trust fund to finally allow farmers to directly benefit from the multi-billion-peso coconut levy funds collected during the Marcos era,” he said.

Velasco expressed hope that this “long-overdue legislation” would help change the lives of poor coconut farmers and their beneficiaries.

The law aims to increase the income of coconut farmers, alleviate poverty and promote social equity, and rehabilitate and modernize the industry towards farm productivity.

House Committee on Agriculture and Food chairman Mark Enverga said establishing the Coconut Farmer and Industry Trust Fund Act is a manifestation of the President’s “genuine concern” for the interest and welfare of the coconut farmers and the coconut industry.

“I am glad that all his concerns and observations when he vetoed the previous coco levy bill version were all given due course to reflect the interests of the small coco farmers,” Enverga said.

He also commended Velasco for his determination to push for the enactment of the coco levy law and guiding his panel by providing significant inputs and direction.

It mandates the maintenance of the Trust Fund for 50 years under the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan that will be formulated.

The development plan will be prepared by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and approved by the President.

The new law also reconstitutes and strengthens the PCA, an independent state corporation created under Presidential Decree 1468, to ensure the participation of coconut farmers in the crafting and implementation of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan.

The PCA will be chaired by the agriculture secretary and vice-chaired by the finance secretary. Its members are the secretaries of budget, science and technology, and trade departments; PCA administrator; and three representatives of the coconut farmers sector for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

The Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, according to the law, will be used for the benefit of the coconut farmers and the development of the coconut industry.

RA 11524 states that the Trust Fund is separate from the regular funds appropriated to the PCA through the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“As such, the PCA shall continue to pursue its mandate of implementing programs and projects from the regular GAA appropriations and from funds under the Trust Fund,” the law reads.

The Bureau of the Treasury is directed to immediately transfer PHP10 billion to the Trust Fund upon the enactment of RA 11524, another PHP10 billion for the second year, and PHP15 billion each for the third and fourth years.

In the fifth year, about PHP25 billion and any amount accruing, including interest, in the special account in the general fund will be transferred to the Trust Fund. (PNA)