The Supreme Court has ruled with finality that the government owns the shares of businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. in United Coconut Planter’s Bank (UCPB) and that these should be used for the benefit of the coconut farmers.
The court referred to what critics of Cojuangco called the “commission,” or shares of stock, the uncle of President Aquino received after negotiating the acquisition by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) of First United Bank (FUB), which was later renamed UCPB and which became the depository of coconut levy funds.
The value of the contested shares was not immediately clear, but a former UCPB director said it was a “pittance” compared to the 27 percent of the sequestered shares of stock in San Miguel Corp., worth P70 billion, that the court ruled last year belonged to coconut farmers because it was acquired with the coconut levy and should be used for their benefit and the development of the coconut industry.
The levy was imposed from 1973 to 1982 on coconut farmers whose families constituted the Philippines’ poorest sector.
In its en banc meeting on Tuesday, the high court denied with finality the motion for reconsideration sought by Cojuangco of its previous ruling declaring that these shares of stock were bought with public funds and, thus, were considered public property.
“Considering that the motion for reconsideration contains a mere reiteration of the arguments that have already been previously pleaded, submitted and resolved by the Court in its Nov. 27, 2012, decision, and that the arguments in the motion are too unsubstantial to warrant reconsideration or modification, we find no reason to modify or abandon the challenged decision,” the high court said, according to a summary of the case prepared by its public information office.
The court said that it would no longer entertain any further pleadings on the case.
Except for Associate Justice Arturo Brion, who was on sick leave, the high court voted unanimously on the ruling penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Cojuangco in his motion said the court had erred in affirming with modification the Sandiganbayan’s decision on his case. He also said that the ruling violated his constitutional right to due process and non-impairment of contract and, thus, sought for the dismissal of the complaint against him in the Sandiganbayan case.
In the Nov. 27, 2012, ruling, the high court upheld but made modifications on a Sandiganbayan ruling issued on July 11, 2003, and amended on June 5, 2007, in connection with Cojuangco’s UCPB shares.
The high tribunal declared as unconstitutional provisions in the agreement between Cojuangco and the PCA on May 25, 1975, which allowed the businessman, known to be a crony of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, “to personally and exclusively own public funds or property.”
The agreement provided for the transfer to Cojuangco “by way of compensation,” of 10 percent of the 72.2 percent shares of stock that PCA purchased using the coconut levy funds.
“In sum, Cojuangco received public assets—in the form of UCPB shares with a value of P10.88 million in 1975, paid by coconut levy funds,” the court had said. It had also noted that Cojuangco had admitted that the PCA paid the entire acquisition price for the 72.2-percent option shares.
“We, therefore, affirm, on this ground, that decision of the Sandiganbayan nullifying the shares of stock transfer to Cojuangco. Accordingly, the UCPB shares of stock representing the 72.2-percent fully paid shares subject of the instant petition, with all dividends declared, paid or issued upon thereon, as well as any increments thereto arising from, but not limited to, the exercise of preemptive right, shall be reconveyed to the government of the Republic of the Philippines, which as we previously clarified, shall be used ‘only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry.’”
The high court added that Cojuangco “cannot stand to benefit by receiving, in his private capacity, 7.22 percent of the FUB shares without violating the constitutional caveat that public funds can only be used for public purpose.”
The disposition of the P70 billion in San Miguel Corp. shares that reverted to the government last year has not been outlined. Militant groups in the industry are protesting a move by the Aquino administration to transfer the amount to the general appropriation fund to finance antipoverty programs.
The militant groups said that the money should be used specifically for the amelioration of the coconut farmers who paid the levy, as directed by the Supreme Court, and that any antipoverty measure should come from the national budget.
Last year, the court likewise ruled that a separate 20-percent block of SMC shares, which farmers claimed was also acquired with the levy money, belonged to Cojuangco. It was worth at least P85 billion.—With Tetch Torres-Tupas, INQUIRER.net
Originally posted at 23:09 | July 10, 2013