President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a new law creating the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund, which aims to return to farmers billions of pesos taken from them nearly five decades ago through taxes imposed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Duterte on Friday signed Republic Act 11524 which will pave the way for the release and the utilization of the P100-billion coco levy fund which, in his own words, was taken from farmer’s pockets “arbitrarily.”
The newly-approved measure mandates the Bureau of Treasury to transfer P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year, P10 billion in the second year, P15 billion in the third year, P15 billion in the fourth year, and P25 billion during the fifth year.
Some P5 billion from the trust fund will be used upon enactment of the law for programs such as planting of hybrid coconut seedlings, training of coconut farmers and their families, among others.
The law also states that a development plan will be crafted by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for the use of funds and to “set the directions and policies for the development and rehabilitation of the coconut industry within 50 years.”
The plan should also seek to increase productivity and income of farmers, alleviate poverty as well as rehabilitate and modernize the sector, the measure said.
RA 11524 also directs any person with coconut levy assets to transfer the assets to the Trust Fund.
It defined “coco levy assets” as any properties acquired through Coconut Levy Funds which have been generated from levies, taxes, charges and other fees related to the sale of copra ressecada or other coconut products collected from farmers, planters, and exporters, among other participants in the production process.
The PCA is also directed to consult coconut farmers and their organizations, industry associations, and civil society groups for the trust fund’s utilization.
The law will take effect 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette and newspapers of general circulation.
For decades, farmers have been waiting for its passage so they could benefit from the taxes collected to them from 1971 to 1983 by Marcos and his cronies.
The dictator invested the money in businesses, but “rewards” and benefits promised to the farmers never materialized.
In 2012, the Supreme Court declared that the coco levy fund belonged to the government for the benefit of the country’s coconut farmers.
The high tribunal also ruled that the billions-worth of coco levy funds used to purchase San Miguel Corp. during Marcos’ dictatorship should be used solely for coco farmers’ benefit or the development of the coconut industry.
The fund, now with the government, was estimated to be around more than P100 billion.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte promised in Catanauan town, Quezon, the top coconut-producing province in the country, that the funds would be distributed to coconut farmers within 100 days of his term.
But in 2019, he vetoed the measure seeking to create a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers over the supposed lack of “vital safeguards” and “may be violative of the Constitution.”
He claimed that the trust fund could “disproportionately benefit wealthy coconut farm owners” due to the absence of a limit on the covered land area for entitlement of benefits.