Coco levy fund: Exec’s role in cases questioned
Give up your seat in the board of directors of United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) or let go of the cases assigned to you as the bank’s external counsel.
This was the advice given by National Coalition of Filipino Consumers (NCFC) counsel Oliver San Antonio to UCPB board member Nilo Divina, who had been hired as the bank’s external counsel in two cases filed in a Makati City court by UCPB against the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).
The lawyer added that to dispel suspicions surrounding the questionable hiring of Divina’s firm “it would be best to let the dean choose the hat he wishes to wear in UCPB.”
“The times demand that our government appointees avoid even the perception of impropriety, as the reactions to the Napoles case have shown that our people now have zero tolerance for those who use their positions to enrich themselves,” San Antonio said.
Divina Law has initiated two special civil actions for declaratory relief in the Makati Regional Trial Court: the first on behalf of UCPB and against Coconut Industry Investment Fund Oil Mills Group (CIIF OMG) and the PCGG and the second on behalf of United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp. (Cocolife) and against CIIF OMG and the PCGG.
Petitioners UCPB and Cocolife are asking the Makati courts to determine if part of the P71 billion worth of UCPB coco levy fund shares that the Supreme Court declared to be public is owned instead by UCPB. The cost of the shares being claimed by UCPB is P15.6 billion.
Militant peasant groups have earlier slammed the UCPB move on the coco levy fund. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the claimants movement Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin have protested the filing of the cases, with KMP chair Rafael Mariano calling the move “totally unacceptable.”
“It is an added insult to millions of small coconut farmers. UCPB has no right to claim even a single centavo from the coco levy funds,” Mariano said.
UCPB, in a statement, denied that there was conflict of interest.
“Considering that [lawyer] Divina is also a UCPB director, the bank’s corporate governance committee has looked into possible governance issues and has determined that the requisites to satisfy any conflict of interest challenge were more than adequately satisfied,” UCPB said.
In the interest of transparency, UCPB said it had also disclosed Divina’s professional engagement to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Divina has waived his professional fees in handling the cases, the bank added.
Divina denied allegations of conflict of interest in a statement he sent from Malaysia.
He said he had asked the UCPB management to excuse his law firm from handling the cases but UCPB asked him to continue.
“I have requested the management of the bank to excuse our law firm given the undeserved and unfair media treatment that I and our law firm have been getting,” he said.
“However, the management has asked our firm to continue given our familiarity with the case and presumably because of their trust in our ability and competence as legal counsel,” he added.
“I will reiterate my request to allow our firm to withdraw as legal counsel for the bank this forthcoming board meeting,” he added.
Divina said his law firm was handling only one case for UCPB. The other petition involved Cocolife, where he is not a board director.
“Both petitions are not meant to be adversarial but pacifying in nature with the end in view of avoiding further litigation,” he said.
“The purpose is to obtain guidance from the court,” he said.
“The management sought the law firm’s services. The firm did not solicit nor ask for it. I inhibited myself in the board meeting where our law firm’s engagement was taken up,” he said.
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