President Duterte wants to unlock over P74 billion in Coconut Levy funds for the benefit of coconut farmers and their families, and believes that new legislation is needed for the government to do so as soon as the Supreme Court lifts its Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on this fund, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.
Dominguez, who was agriculture secretary in the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino, said a law is needed so this money could be used by farmers in coconut-producing areas for such projects as support programs for them and scholarships for their dependents in, say, state colleges and universities.
Asked by Sen. Francis Pangalinan at a recent congressional hearing about this fund, Dominguez said that, “I’ve discussed this with the President and we believe that legislation is necessary to utilize the coco levy funds for the benefit of farmers in the coconut areas. The coco levy fund right now is a little bit over P74 billion.”
“There is a TRO in the Supreme Court and we will have to wait once it is lifted, and he wants to manage the funds but its utilization can only be by law….and I will support using these funds to provide scholarships, maybe in the state schools and colleges in the areas, and of course other kinds of support for the coconut-producing communities.”
“Supporting scholarships, supporting better farming methods, maybe supporting the new intercropping methods as well as new coconut varieties should be done, but I think this should be done by legislation,” he added during the congressional hearing.
In an earlier forum, Dominguez said this investment had been discussed at a recent Cabinet meeting, and the President has expressed in that session his preference for it to be used for the exclusive benefit of coconut farmers and their families.
“We have discussed that at the Cabinet, and, you know, it’s quite a complicated issue, but we are going to make sure that the funds in the national treasury …. will be used exclusively for the benefit of the coconut farmers,” Dominguez said.
But this will require new legislation, he said, because the fund is already with the national treasury and thus cannot be spent without congressional approval or a new law.
This fund, which was collected from coconut farmers during the former Marcos administration, has been locked up for decades in legal cases over ownership issues.
“How it will be used is the question,” he said. “We have suggested (at the Cabinet meeting) that one of the uses will be (the setting up of a) permanent fund for providing scholarships for people in the coconut areas based on the theory that, you know, education is what brings people up.”
“So that has been agreed upon by the president, but we are still going through it and we understand that new legislation will be proposed for that because the funds are already in the national treasury, and these cannot be spent without legislative approval or legislative measures,” Dominguez said.
“We have to have new legislation,” he said, “and the President has said that (the fund) will be exclusively used for the benefit of the coconut farmers.”
“Now, we cannot say which particular coconut farmers because this thing happened 40 years ago. So the use of the funds will be dedicated to the areas where coconut is a major part of the economy,” Dominguez added.