The Supreme Court declared with finality that the shares of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) belonged to the government.
Also, the High Court warned, it would no longer entertain any further pleadings.
It’s about time it did. Twelve years is much too long to determine ownership of the so-called Coconut Industry Investment Fund (coco levy fund), which to our simple and uncomplicated mind is an open-and-shut case.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the coco levy fund was “public in character”.
Now, why couldn’t those learned magistrates say who or what institution owned the fund right there and then? Why did they leave it to the Sandiganbayan to make the determination? For what purpose? Was it to give Cojuangco more time to enjoy the wealth that came to his hand courtesy of an onerous presidential decree?
In 1975, then dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 755 authorizing the Philippine Coconut Authority (Philcoa) to use the levy fund to buy 72.2 percent of First United Bank (FUB), later renamed UCPB.
Take note that the coconut levy fund represented taxes exacted from coconut farmers. Was it too hard to understand that they belonged to the government?
But as earlier pointed out it took the Sandiganbayan and the Supreme Court more than a decade to come to that conclusion.
That’s the litigation history. The farmers suffered the injustice much longer than that, when the presidential decree was issued in 1975, or 38 years ago.
At the time, Cojuangco was a member of the PCA board. He became president and CEO of FUB/UCPB, when the bank started administering the coco levy fund, which by then was holding controlling shares in San Miguel Corporation, shipping and insurance firms, desiccated coconut trading companies, and oil mills.
In 1986, shortly after the dictator was toppled, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) sequestered all coco levy-acquired assets. However, when President Joseph Estrada came to power, he returned control of UCPB to Cojuangco.
Two years after the High Court’s ruling that the fund was “public in character”, the Sandiganbayan declared PD 755 unconstitutional and the 1975 FUB/UCPB transfer of the shares of stock to Cojuangco null and void. It also ruled a year later that the 7.2 percent UCPB shares, given to Cojuangco as commission, were government fund.
Unwilling to let go, Cojuangco filed one petition after another, each basically arguing that the ruling violated his constitutional right to due process and the non-impairment of contract provision of the law.
Mercifully, the Supreme Court the other day dismissed with finality the last of the petitions and awarded the shares of stock to the government.
The petitioner had argued his constitutional right to due process was violated.
If anybody’s right had been violated it was that of the coconut farmers. The fund derived from taxes collected from them purportedly for the construction of projects designed for their benefits and those of their families was given to or appropriated by one man.