The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) has called for the establishment of interim measures, such as price support, that will allow the immediate use of the coco levy fund while a bill is pending.
Jesus Arranza, FPI president and lifetime president of the Coconut Oil Refiners Association (CORA) in a statement said coconut farmers should be allowed to use the fund to alleviate their plight due to pandemic and the depressed prices of coconut products.
’While welcoming President Duterte’s reiteration at the State of the Nation Address on Monday of his call for the immediate passage of the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund and for both houses of Congress to fast-track the passage of the bill, Arranza said the coconut farmers badly need immediate interventions, including a price support mechanism to augment their income amid the low buying price of copra.
The average farm-gate price of copra was monitored by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) at P18.88 per kilogram (kg) last July 17. It fell from as high as P54/kg in January 2017 and P42.81/kg in July 2017.
“The mechanism (for the copra price support) and the attendant requirements can be discussed and developed by the PCA, its private sector counterpart United Coconut Association of the Philippines, the Department of Finance, as well as other stakeholders,” Arranza said.
The Bureau of the Treasury is currently holding in trust some P80 billion in coco levy fund. In 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) had ruled that the money from the levy should be used to help the coconut farmers and develop the coconut industry.
Arranza, who was appointed president of the CIIF Oil Mills and its 14 holding companies in 2009, recalled that the group turned over to the Treasury P54 billion representing the price paid by San Miguel Corp. for the shares owned by the 14 CIIF holding companies.
“Until now, I have not heard of any withdrawal from that fund to support the coconut farmers, who are suffering more because of the pandemic,” he said.
The PCA, Arranza noted, can administer the interim interventions that will be financed by a portion of the coco levy money now with the Treasury to tide the coconut farmers over the pandemic and the depressed copra prices.
Congress has previously approved the coco levy bill, which seeks the creation of a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers, although it was vetoed by Duterte, who noted that it “may be violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past.”
Both houses of Congress now have separate versions that take into consideration the inputs from Malacanang.