In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the 753,848,312 shares in San Miguel Corp. that were bought with coconut levy funds be used by government to help 3.5 million underprivileged farmers and their families. The shares were worth P84.3 billion that had earned quarterly dividends over the last two years at P8.8 billion.
The High Court ruling written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. ordered the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to put the entire cash component—P5.2 billion worth of SMC shares and P1.4 billion deposited at the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) or a total of P7.6 billion—in a special account at either the UCPB, the Development Bank of the Philippines or Land Bank of the Philippines.
Thus, the monies and assets that had been tended to profitability by a much-reviled Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco were seized, transferred into government hands for safekeeping.
For one reason or another, PCGG chair Andres Bautista (now the Commission on Elections chief) ordered that the seized monies be withdrawn and deposited in the Bureau of Treasury. The sleight of hand move ran roughshod on the Court ruling.
And coconut farmers nationwide are likely seeing a huge shell game fitted out, with fast hands shuffling, shifting monies in a shell here and there, here and there, just like the typical game played by a parcel of confidence men—your guess is as good as mine where the P7.6 billion is now.
Jaws dropped in consternation, a 3.2-million strong Confederation of Coconut Farmers with members in 63 provinces nationwide is raising a hue and cry, demanding Malacañang to reveal its hand, give them an answer in earnest where the money went. At the same time, Confed national chair Efren Villaseñor lashed at what he calls a “bogus” coco farmer serving as a ventriloquist’s dummy of sorts in a bid to muddle issues.
Taking a dig at one Joey Faustino of a group called Coconut Industry Reform Movement, Villaseñor said Faustino’s attempt to drag the names of presidential aspirant Grace Poe and business mogul Danding Cojuangco into the coco levy fund mess is meant to muddle and addle because they are out of the picture: “We fought against Danding and we won against him. He has surrendered coco levy funds and assets to the government. Now, we are fighting a bantay-salakay of a government because the money is being used for purposes other than for the benefit of our coconut farmers. Masyado na kaming kawawa.”
He added that Faustino is a mere pawn in Malacañang’s brazen try for a firmer hold on the coco levy fund monies, including attempts in Congress to turn up proposed laws to privatize coco levy assets. Malacañang beat the lawmakers to the draw with a pair of Executive Orders (EOs 179 and 180) cranked out by President Benigno S. Aquino III last year that provides for privatization of an estimated P200 billion coco levy fund assets. The pending measures in Congress to dispose the same assets are so similar to the EOs, he noted.
Villaseñor bewailed that coconut farmers “were not even consulted on the issuance of the two EOs. We were surprised because Malacañang wanted to dispose of the fund without even consulting us. It seems they have other purpose for the fund, maybe for the elections, but it is not for the coconut farmers.”
Villaseñor somehow feels an old-fashioned game is now in progress, the shell game that, for ages, has been run by a parcel of thieves: “Putting it in the Bureau of Treasury, and then to the General Funds, the government now is the absolute owner of the fund and they can use it for any purpose they want, to the prejudice of the millions of farmers who fought for decades to recover the money.”
Malacañang beat its passel of lawmakers to the draw with a pair of EOs, then, beat slowpoke farmers who asked the High Court for a temporary restraining order to stop the Aquino EOs. The court obliged.
But the monies had already been funneled to the government treasury.
Villaseñor confessed that his members are averse to privatization of the coco levy fund assets. They want a standby fund that can grow and used to assist farmers in shoring up a wobbling coconut industry: “We want to regain our old stature of being the biggest coconut exporter in Asia. We can only do that if we provide all the support to our farmers, especially teaching them new technologies on how to maximize the earning potential of the coconut—from the husk to its shell, down to its water and the meat.”
He is worried by reports that “P5.2 billion of the P7.6 billion has already been transferred from a special account of the Bureau of Treasury to the General Funds which Malacañang can use for any purpose it desires including using it for the elections.”
Malacañang and the PCGG have ignored their queries, he added.