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Duterte vetoes P100-billion coco bill

Cites lack of vital safeguards, constitutional proviso

President Rodrigo Duterte has vetoed a second bill regarding the coconut industry, again citing the lack of “vital safeguards.”

In a letter to Congress, the President expressed “serious concerns” about a bill that establishes a P100-billion trust fund for coconut farmers, saying that its provisions fail to target the full utilization of the coco levy fund for its beneficiaries.

“After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the bill may be violative of the Constitution and is lacking in vital safeguards to avoid the repetition of painful mistakes committed in the past,” Duterte said.

The President said the creation of an “effectively perpetual” trust fund would violate a constitutional provision that money collected on any tax levied for a special purpose “shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only.”

“If the purpose for which the special fund was created has been fulfilled or abandoned, the balance, if any shall be transferred to the general fund of the government,” the constitutional provision says.

The President also said that the absence of limits against a land area entitled to the benefits of the trust fund may “disproportionately benefit wealthy coconut farm owners more than the smallholder farmers who desperately need the government’s affirmative assistance.”

“The broad powers given to the Philippine Coconut Authority,” which would have managed the supposed multi-billion-peso funds, “would undermine relevant regulations and safeguards that were established to avoid abuses,” Duterte added.

Last week, the President vetoed a bill creating a reconstituted 15-member PCA board, which includes seven members from the private sector. Duterte argued that the proposed legislation lacked necessary safeguards. The Palace said the bill would be susceptible to corruption.

READ: Rody vetoes coconut bill for lack of safeguards

The President said he still hoped that members of Congress would “continue to work together” to come up with a new bill that is “acceptable to all.”

Also on Monday, Senator Cynthia Villar said if she is reelected, she would give priority to enacting a law that would finally allow 3.5 million coconut farmers and their beneficiaries to directly benefit from the P100-billion coconut levy fund.

In a recent visit to Laguna, a coconut-producing province, Villar said she is saddened that President Duterte vetoed Senate Bill 1233 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Act, but said she trusts the President’s action and expressed willingness to work with him to improve the bill.

“We want to take care of coconut farmers, who, together with rice farmers, make up 90 percent of the farmers in the Philippines,” she said. “If we can improve the lives of coconut farmers and rice farmers, we have already improved the lives of majority of our farmers.”

READ: Rody seeks graft-proof coconut bill

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , “vital safeguards
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