Coco farmers ask Supreme Court to block Aquino EOs on levy funds
A coalition of coconut farmer groups has asked the Supreme Court to stop President Aquino from implementing two executive orders on the privatization and reconveyance of the P74.3-billion coco levy fund that the high court had recently declared to be public funds.
In a 33-page petition filed on May 20, the Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines (CCFOP) led by Charles Avila accused Aquino of committing grave abuse of authority when he issued EOs 179 and 180 without the approval of Congress and the Sandiganbayan antigraft court.
The petition argued that the two executive orders were unconstitutional and bypassed the power of Congress to legislate how these funds would be managed.
“[P]etitioner humbly submits that this judgment [by the Supreme Court], without prior legislative imprimatur, cannot be hastily and prematurely ’implemented’ by the President through mere EOs. In passing the assailed EOs, the President acted in excess of his constitutionally mandated powers,” Avila said.
EO 179 ordered the inventory, privatization, reconveyance and transfer in favor of the government of all the coco levy assets, including but not limited to the shares of stock in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and the shares of stock held by holding companies and the Philippine Commission on Good Government. These were to be deposited in a “special account in the general fund for coco levies.”
EO 180, on the other hand, mandates the immediate transfer of the funds to the government and their utilization in a program called the Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap and the Coconut Roadmap for Coco Levy.
The PCGG, Governance Commission for GOCCs and the Department of Justice were tasked to administer the funds. CCFOP included the three agencies in the suit as respondents.
The group asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction against the two EOs and thereafter declare both as null and void and all fund transfers as illegal and unauthorized.
“These twin executive orders can only lead to a much worse coco-economy of exclusion and would cause new plunder of the coco levy funds,” Avila, CCFOP executive director and spokesman, said in a statement.
The Supreme Court ruled the coco levy funds were public funds in two decisions (Republic v Sandiganbayan First Division and Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. in April 2011, and Cocofed v Republic in January 2012).
Avila said that in issuing the two EOs, President Aquino also violated the mandate of the Philippine Coconut Authority, which Congress created to administer the coco levy funds.
The funds were also subject to a writ of execution of the Sandigabayan’s first division that originally had jurisdiction over the coco levy controversy.
“The release of the coconut levy assets held by the UCPB and its transfer to the Bureau of Treasurer already partakes of the nature of execution,” he said.
He added that the creation of the special fund is conferred by the Constitution not on the President but exclusively on Congress in the latter’s exercise of its power of the purse. He noted that there were several bills pending in both houses of Congress on the reversion of the coco levy funds to the government.
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