Farmers welcome SC ruling on Danding’s UCPB, urge Aquino to run after UCPB execs

THE militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the newly-formed Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM) movement today welcomed the Supreme Court decision upholding Sandiganbayan’s decision in 2004 that the 72.2 percent in shares of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) transferred to President Aquino’s uncle, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., were owned by the government.

The KMP and CLAIM, however, asked how much of the coco levy funds were left in the bank after the UCPB suffered losses in 11 consecutive years amounting to about P30 billion. The group challenged President Benigno Aquino to run after the bank’s officials.

“The SC ruling did not only strengthen the small coconut farmers’ legitimate claim over the 72.2 percent shares in UCPB but reaffirmed the historical truth that President Aquino’s uncle plundered the coco levy funds,” KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella said.

In a ruling written by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the court en banc declared null and void the May 25, 1975, agreement between Philippine Coconut Administration (PCA) and Cojuangco that provides for the transfer, by way of compensation, to the businessman of 10-percent, or 7.22 percent out of the 72.2 percent, First United Bank or FUB (now UCPB) shares of stocks that the PCA purchased using the coconut-levy funds.

The court noted that Cojuangco, in effect, received public assets with a value then of P10.88 million, considering his admission that the PCA paid for the entire acquisition price for the 72.2 percent shares out of the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF).

Thus, it said, the businessman gained for himself by acquiring property using public funds. “Consequently, Cojuangco cannot stand to benefit by receiving, in his private capacity, 7.22 percent of the FUB shares without violating the constitutional caveat that public funds can only be used for public purpose. Accordingly, the 7.22 percent FUB (UCPB) shares that were given to Cojuangco shall be returned to the government, to be used ‘only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry,’” the court declared.

“In light of the SC ruling, it is now Aquino’s turn to immediately return the 72.2 percent shares in UCPB together with the more than P80 billion from San Miguel Corporation last October to small coconut farmers,” says Marbella, also CLAIM national coordinator.

“But the question is: Magkano na lang ba ang pera ng magniniyog sa UCPB?” asked Marbella citing that in a Senate hearing last year, former UCPB president and CEO Ramon Sy revealed that from 1998 to 2008, the bank suffered successive losses worth P30 billion due to bad loans.

Marbella urged the Aquino government to run after UCPB officials mainly responsible for allegedly “plundering the coco levy funds.”

“These so-called bad loans are equal to systematic plunder of the coco levy funds. The plunderers of the small coconut farmers’ money, from Danding to UCPB officials, all of them, including self-proclaimed coconut farmers’ representatives in the UCPB board must be held responsible,” Marbella said.

Both KMP and CLAIM reiterated calls for the immediate cash distribution of the coco levy funds to small coconut farmers.

“The coco levy funds should be distributed in cash to small coconut farmers and used for socio-economic projects directly managed by small coconut farmers’ organizations and cooperatives,” Marbella said.

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