History to repeat itself on coconut levy funds
It was during martial law when a humongous sum collected from farmers on their copra sales was turned into investments for the benefit of a privileged few close to President Marcos. Presidential decrees and letters of instruction backed the establishment of a coconut monopoly that landed under the control and ownership of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.—all in the name but to the detriment of the millions of impoverished small coconut farmers.
It took decades for the cases filed by the Cory Aquino administration to see its way to resolution. In 2009, the Supreme Court first instructed the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), composed of President Gloria Arroyo’s appointees, to convert the biggest single block of shares in San Miguel Corp. (SMC) from common to preferred, even prior to any determination of its real nature. The conversion brought about billions of losses to government in favor of SMC. Government also lost its seats on the board of SMC, thus surrendering full control of the corporation to Cojuangco, the crony from whom the Philippine republic wanted the assets recovered.
In April 2011, the Supreme Court then decided to grant Cojuangco the ownership of the 20-percent block in SMC merely because government, from seven magistrates’ perspective, was not able to prove that he was a crony of Marcos. Cojuangco did not even have to prove his rightful ownership in the process. A final decision on this case had to come earlier than a decision on the 24 percent, to veer away from the premises of the coco levy funds being public in nature.
Then as if the timing was to be made perfect, the Supreme Court resolution, dated Sept. 4, 2012, finally declaring the 24 percent CIIF-SMC shares to be public, was issued in the last week of September. The issuance was just in time for the redemption of the shares by SMC in the first week of October 2012. The PCGG, now composed of President Benigno Aquino Jr.’s appointees, earlier stated that the conversion did cause huge losses to government, but it did nothing about it. In fact, the P-Noy PCGG recently led the CIIF oil mills and the 14 holding companies into surrendering the converted shares to Cojuangco and SMC for its redemption.
Then it was the Marcos decrees that supported the coco levy scam in favor of the cronies. Today they have the Supreme Court and the ever-so-silent executive branch of government. In the meantime, government and the coconut farmers will now have their hands full with some P69-billion proceeds from the redemption, including previous cash dividends—maybe in the process losing sight that only one man, against millions of farmers, was privileged once more to get the lion’s share of the coco levy assets. Then again one cannot be sure yet that the farmers can now truly benefit from what is left.—JOEY FAUSTINO, executive director, Coconut Industry Reform Movement, firstname.lastname@example.org
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