The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday stopped the government from utilizing more than P73 billion in coconut levy funds.
During its regular en banc session, it halted implementation of two executive orders issued by President Benigno Aquino 3rd that require the privatization and utilization by and reconveyance to the government of the funds amounting to at least P73.4 billion.
In landmark rulings on coconut levy fund cases–Philippine Coconut Producers Federation Inc, et al. vs Republic of the Philippines, et al.; and Republic of the Philippines vs Sandiganbayan, et al.–the High Court ruled that the coconut levy funds are public funds.
It issued a temporary restraining order, stating that the funds and assets may not be utilized and privatized by or transferred to the government.
The SC gave credence to a petition of the Confederation of Coconut Farmers Organizations of the Philippines Inc. that sought to stop the implementation of Executive Order 179 (Providing the Administrative Guidelines for the Inventory and Privatization of Coco Levy Assets) and EO 180 (Providing the Administrative Guidelines for the Reconveyance and Utilization of Coco Levy Assets for the Benefit of the Coconut Farmers and the Development of the Coconut Industry) both issued on March 18, 2015.
The EOs deal with guidelines for inventory of all coconut levy assets; transfer and reconveyance of the assets to the government through combined efforts of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), Bureau of Treasury, Governance Commission for Government-owned and –Controlled Corporations and Office of the Solicitor General; privatization and divestment of the assets; dissolution of Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) Holding Companies; and development of an Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap and Roadmap for Coconut Levy.
Among the assets that are covered by the orders are so-called farmers’ shares in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB); shares of stocks in the CIIF Holding Companies; and 5,500,000 San Miguel Corp. shares paid by SMC and UCPB to and registered in the name of the PCGG.
According to the petitioners, Aquino committed grave abuse of authority amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when he issued both EOs without the approval of Congress and the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.
They said only the Philippine Coconut Authority has the mandate to administer the coconut levy funds.
“The President cannot just arrogate unto himself, without legislative authority, the power to allocate, use and administer the billions of pesos of coconut funds and assets. The two chambers of Congress are doing this right now as it is their right and duty but the President would preempt them with these assailed EOs for how many billions of reasons and for what urgent purposes only his ruling party knows–although the farmers have their ‘2016’ suspicions,” their petition read.
The President leads the Liberal Party, which will contest national and local posts in next year’s elections.
“Without legislative imprimatur… the President acted in excess of his constitutionally mandated powers,” the petitioners said.