A resolution by House Deputy Assistant Majority Speaker Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte is calling for an investigation of the board of directors of the government-sequestered United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB).
The resolution was prodded by allegations by the anti-graft watchdog National Coalition of Filipino Consumers (NCFC) and the coconut levy claimants group Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM).
The two groups wanted to know why the members of UCPB’s board of directors filed cases against the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) asking the courts to declare P15.6 billion of the P71-billion coco levy fund shares as owned by UCPB, and for hiring the law firm of UCPB board member Atty. Nilo Divina to handle the cases.
Belmonte said “the UCPB contracted the services of the said law firm despite apparent conflicts of interest and violations of certain professional codes and laws.”
His resolution further states that “as a public official and a member of the Bar, Divina could be held liable for violating provisions of RA 6713, RA 3019, as well as the Code of Professional Responsibility.”
In an official statement, the UCPB board has admitted that it was aware of the possible conflict of interest issues. Despite this, Divina’s law firm was hired because the UCPB corporate governance committee “determined that the corporate governance policies have been adequately satisfied.”
In statements to the media, Divina, who is the dean of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Law, said his firm, Divina Law, did not solicit cases from the UCPB and that he had inhibited from board deliberations assigning the cases to his firm.
The militant group CLAIM has accused the UCPB board of “systematic plunder” for the hiring of Divina.
CLAIM spokesperson Arvin Borromeo said “under the guise of filing cases, the law firm owned by a UCPB director is being paid out of coconut farmers’ money. This is a scam, a systematic plunder led by the UCPB insiders themselves.”
In his resolution, Belmonte said an inquiry into the allegations of the NCFC and CLAIM was necessary as UCPB board members were “public officials under the Executive Department” that should meet “the highest ethical and good governance standards so that they not only avoid improper conduct, but the perception of improper conduct.”
Belmonte added that the UCPB “is a government owned and controlled corporation, considering that the government owns majority of its shares,” so the corporation, as well as members of its Board “are public officials under the Executive Department, accountable to the people.”
The board of directors of UCPB are nominated by the PCGG with the approval of the President. It is chaired by Menardo Jimenez and its members include Jeronimo Kilayko (president and chief executive officer), Jaime Aristotle Alip, Datu Mao Andong, Jr., Arthur Bautista, Atty. Nilo Divina, Atty. Karlo Marco Estavillo, Atty. Primitivo Garcia III, Higinio Macadaeg, Jr., Cristina Orbeta, Danilo Pulido, Oscar Solidor, Efren Villaseñor, John Young, and Ildefonso Jimenez.
In the wake of the allegations, CLAIM has also called on the President to fire the members of the UCPB board.
“Heads should roll in UCPB, unless this anti-coconut farmer maneuver by the UCPB board enjoys the blessings of Aquino himself who is also itching to profit from the coco levy fund,” argued Borromeo.