By Arjay L. Balinbin, February 10 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Philippine Star

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte wants more safeguards and a stronger Executive role in the implementation of the P10-billion annual appropriation for the development of the coconut industry, Malacañang said on Saturday, explaining a bill on the coco levy fund vetoed by Mr. Duterte.

The proposed measure seeks to reconstitute the Governing Board of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). Mr. Duterte wants Congress to “re-craft” the bill by providing “more safeguards to protect the taxpayers’ money and shield the levy funds from irregular and unlawful use,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement on Saturday, Feb. 9.

“While the President recognizes and commends the efforts of both Houses for their zealousness and selflessness in passing the measure, it is therefore with a heavy heart that he exercises his veto power pursuant to Article 6, Section 27, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution over the said bill, with the thought and confidence that the lawmakers can re-craft one that will provide more safeguards to protect the taxpayers’ money and shield the levy funds from irregular and unlawful use, as well as guarantee its proper management,” Mr. Panelo said.

Mr. Panelo said the grounds cited by the President for the veto are as follows:

“First, the PhP 10 Billion in annual appropriation for the development of an industry whose implementation is placed on an agency not required to seek approval from the Executive Branch is susceptible to corruption akin to creating pork barrel funds. The oversight functions over the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) [are] placed only with Congress. Specifically, the strengthened PCA Bill mentions of an oversight to be exercised by the Coconut Farmers and the Industry Oversight Committee to the exclusion of the Executive Branch.”

“Second, a reconstituted PCA is given various functions including but not limited to the sale, disposition, or dissolution of coco levy assets without checks and balances.”

“Such condition will diminish the ability of the Department of Justice, through the Office of the Solicitor-General in coordination with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, to act on cases relating to coco levy assets.”

“Third, the composition of the reconstituted 15-member PCA Board under the PCA Bill includes seven members coming from the private sector. A receipt of PhP10 Billion by the board from taxpayers’ money therefore translates to permitting private persons to influence the disbursement of public funds.”

“Finally, the PCA is set up like the Road Board which is heavily criticized for allegations of corruption and misappropriation of funds. The PCA Board, like the Road Board which disburses the Motor Vehicle User’s Charge, is given full authority to disburse PhP10 Billion every year in perpetuity without a terminal date, and subject only to review by Congress after six years.”

The President, through a letter, informed Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III last Friday, that he was vetoing the enrolled Senate Bill No. 1976/ House Bill No. 8522, entitled: “An Act to Further Strengthen the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), amending Presidential Decree No. 1468, otherwise known as the ‘Revised Coconut Industry Code,’ as amended, and appropriating funds thereof.”

The enrolled bill seeks to strengthen the PCA Governing Board with the appointment of four Cabinet secretaries, six representatives from among the coconut farmers and one from the coconut industry.

In her statement on Saturday, Senator Cynthia A. Villar, author and sponsor of the bill, said in part, “In the coming days, I hope to be enlightened more on why the President believes the measure lacked ‘vital safeguards’ and will work with him to improve this bill.”

“However this does not mean that all hopes are lost for our 3.5 million coconut farmers who have waited for decades to benefit from the coconut levy funds,” she also said.