Coco farmers seek return of Danding’s UCPB shares

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COCONUT farmers urged the government to return to them businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s shares in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) which the Supreme Court (SC) awarded to the government.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (Claim), as well as the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) hailed the High Court’s final ruling that Cojuangco’s 72.2 percent shares in UCPB were owned by the government.

“The SC ruling did not only strengthen the small coconut farmers’ legitimate claim over the 72.2 percent shares in UCPB but reaffirmed the historical truth that President (Benigno) Aquino 3rd’s uncle plundered the coco levy funds,” Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary-general, said in a statement.

He described the UCPB case as the “strongest testament” of how Cojuangco and former president Ferdinand Marcos plundered the coco funds.

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“UCPB is a product of the political masterstroke of the Marcos-Cojuangco coco fund mafia,” Marbella said, referring to Cojuangco’s acquisition of First United Bank, that was later renamed as UCPB, using the coco funds ‘legitimized’ by Marcos’ martial law edict.

Marbella said the SC decision means that “the funds were owned by the small coconut farmers.”

“The government is only a trustee for the small coconut farmers, the genuine and legitimate owners of the funds,” he said. “The funds were forcibly exacted from small coconut farmers by the Marcos dictatorship.”

The two groups said with the High Court’s ruling, the government should hand Cojuangco’s UCPB shares to coconut farmers.

“In light of the SC ruling, we demand that Aquino immediately return to small coconut farmers the whole 72.2 percent shares in UCPB along with the more than P70 billion recovered from San Miguel Corporation in October last year,” Claim said in a statement.

The peasant groups also called on Congress to immediately tackle House Bill 1327 or the “Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund Act of 2013” filed by Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap.

Under HB 1327, the Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund shall be used exclusively for the benefit of small coconut farmers.

The PCGG was also pleased with the SC decision.

“While we have yet to receive an official copy of the Supreme Court ruling, the commission is pleased with the news that the court has ruled with finality that the government owned the litigated UCPB shares,” PCGG chairman Andres Bautista said in a statement.

“The commission welcomes the affirmation of the Sandiganbayan’s finding (decided exactly 10-years ago today) that these assets are conclusively owned by the Republic. As previously decreed by the court, these shares and all other coco levy assets are to be used only for the benefit of coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry,” Bautista added.

The PCGG chief said the commission is working with other government agencies including the Department of Finance and the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation to determine what is the best course of action to take mindful of the directive that the assets should be used solely for the benefit of the coconut industry and farmers.

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