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Duterte signs bill creating coco levy trust fund

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Friday night signed a measure creating a levy trust fund for coconut farmers, according to the presidential palace.

Republic Act 115421 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act seeks to declare coconut levy assets as a trust fund to rehabilitate and modernize the country’s coconut industry.

The measure lets poor coconut farmers benefit from taxes collected from them decades ago, now worth about P76 billion.

Under the law, the use of the trust fund will be based on a development plan prepared by the Philippine Coconut Authority, which must consult coconut farmers and their organizations, industry associations, civil society groups and government agencies about the use of the money. These sectors will form the Coco Levy Trust Fund board.

The Treasury bureau must 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 in the fifth year. The trust fund will be maintained for 50 years.

An initial P5 billion will be made available for various  programs such as planting and replanting of hybrid coconut seedlings and training of coconut farmers, among other things.

The law is expected to benefit about 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 coconut-producing provinces who own not more than five hectares of farmland.

During his campaign in 2016, Mr. Duterte promised coconut farmers that he would return the coco levy fund in his first 100 days in office.

The late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos allegedly conspired with his cronies to tax coconut farmers, promising them the development of the coconut industry and a share of the investments.

But the money was allegedly used for personal gain particularly in the purchase of United Coconut Planters Bank and San Miguel Corp. shares.

Mr. Duterte vetoed a similar bill in 2019, saying its inadequate safeguards could benefit wealthy coconut farm owners. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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