UCPB move to get share of coco levy proceeds questioned | Inquirer Opinion

UCPB move to get share of coco levy proceeds questioned

/ 12:03 AM June 10, 2014

In an obvious attempt to muddle the already complicated issues related to the coconut levy, the United Coconut Planters Bank held a press conference. In its motion for declaratory relief, UCPB seeks a portion of the P56-billion-or-so proceeds from the redemption of San Miguel Corp.’s (SMC) preferred shares. UCPB has filed a P7-billion claim along with another P7 billion for Cocolife—all together, P14 billion.

UCPB is a sequestered corporation handled by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) since 1986. Since its sequestration, Malacañang has been responsible for appointing the executives and board members of the bank and its related companies, the UCPB-CIIF Group of Companies. These companies have, therefore, always been subject to the vagaries of political fortunes—from the martial law era (when Danding Cojuangco et al. lorded it over the companies) to the post-Marcos years that saw the control of these companies changing hands with every change of administration, to the previous Arroyo administration, when Cojuangco got back in the saddle, so to speak; up to the administration of President Aquino, his nephew.

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The Supreme Court ruling on the SMC shares included not just the originally invested amount. It covered as well all dividends, interests and other earnings from the shares. Found to be coming from the coco levies, all of these were declared public funds for a special purpose. The decision is hinged on the premise that the coco levy fund was collected by government using state powers. The fund and all its proceeds, therefore, may not be transferred to any private individual or juridical person such as a corporation.

In fact, it has been proven in court that the UCPB itself was acquired in 1975 using coconut levy funds. And while it invested in other companies that later acquired the SMC shares, it had used the coco levy monies as well to do so. This means that subject funds are one and the same. And it would be unnecessary for a fund to collect from its own such as what the UCPB is now suggesting.

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The great wonder, however, is why President Aquino’s appointees to the UCPB board, through yet another board member, would file a case versus the government to establish a separate claim on the SMC shares proceeds. Moreover, the PCGG itself, through its chair Andy Bautista, sits in the same board. It would have been completely understandable if these people were raising a claim against private parties who took advantage of the coco levies. They would then be doing the government and the coconut farmers a big favor. So in whose favor are they really doing this for?

It should also be noted further that this administration has caused to split the SMC shares into principal and proceeds for no given reason at all. The levy’s P56.5-billion principal was turned over to the National Treasury while the more than P14 billion in dividends is deposited in the UCPB. Is the motion for declaratory relief simply a way to legitimize this unexplained move?

—JOEY FAUSTINO,

executive director,

Coconut Industry

Reform Movement

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TAGS: coconut levy, letters, san miguel’s preferred shares, UCPB
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