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Taympers! Congress recalls bill up for Duterte’s signature

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By Xave Gregorio

Congress recalled a bill up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature for further amendments by a bicameral conference committee to thwart a possible veto on the measure, which seeks to establish trust fund which would allow coconut farmers to benefit from billions in coco levy funds collected during the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The Senate, in a 13-4 vote, and the House, in a viva voce vote, adopted Tuesday (October 9) their respective resolutions which recalls Senate Bill No. 1233 and House Bill No. 5745 “to enable Congres to introduce a major amendment which it failed to include during the bicameral conference.”

Only Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Grace Poe voted against Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 14.

The resolutions state that the absence of the “major amendment” was only discovered upon “careful perusal of the enrolled bill submitted to the Office of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”

However, Zubiri earlier told reporters that Duterte and other Cabinet members warned of a veto as they raised objections to the number of farmers on the board which would manage the trust fund and the P10 billion fund which would be released yearly for assistance to coconut farmers.

Minority senators warned that this move would set a bad precedent, so Congress should just wait for Duterte to veto the bill and allow the legislature to override it, as provided in the Constitution.

“What would stop another Cabinet member [to] whisper to whoever and tell us here that the bill that we passed on third reading and the enrolled bill that we have forwarded to Malacañang has certain questionable provisions?” Pangilinan said.

Drilon said he could not accept the reasoning that Congress “overlooked” the supposedly missing amendment.

“We cannot be presumed to be negligent. In effect, we’re being told negligent because we overlooked. We cannot accept that we are negligent,” he said.

Meanwhile, Poe explained that she voted against the resolution in keeping with the promise she made to coconut farmers during her failed 2016 presidential campaign.

“One of the things I promised our constituents was for the farmers to not only benefit from the coco levy fund but also have the biggest say on how they’ll be able to benefit this and take control of this. This is the promise that I made to them and I stand firm on keeping that,” she said.

The measure, when it first hurdled through the bicameral conference committee in August, tasked the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) to manage the trust fund and would be composed of the Agriculture secretary as its chair, the Finance secretary as its vice chair, the Budget secretary as its administrator, another Cabinet official and six representatives of coconut farmers.

However, Zubiri said the executive branch raised “constitutional” and “legal” concerns in allowing civilians to handle government funds.

But Recto, who voted in favor of the Senate resolution to speed up the passage of the bill which has been languishing in Congress for years, pointed out that Duterte would be appointing farmers’ representatives.

“Why would the President be afraid of his own appointment?” Recto said.

Zubiri repeatedly pinned the blame on the failure of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) to inform Congress prior to the bill’s passage of the executive’s objections to the measure, and even called for PLLO chief Adelino Sitoy to be replaced.