By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The Aquino government has closed the case over the much-disputed, multi-billion coco levy fund issue involving the former crony of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and uncle of the current president San Miguel Corporation chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.
A Disposition Form dated February 14, 2012 approved by Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro and signed by FIO administrative officer Aileen Maqueda, states that “it appears that the issues which need to be verified and substantiated have already been settled by the Supreme Court.”
“The judgment of the Supreme Court is conclusive, and cannot be contradicted by an inferior court. It bars the re-opening of the case in subsequent litigation under the doctrine that no one should be vexed twice for the same cause,” the order stated.
“Thus, any fact finding on the issues appears to be moot and academic… the investigator respectfully recommends the CPL-C-03-2521 be closed and terminated.
The militant peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) is accusing the Office of the Ombudsman of white-washing the case.
“We believe that it’s a willful and deliberate attempt to exonerate the President’s uncle,” Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general, said.
Marbella said the high court’s most recent decision declaring the coco levy funds as public funds while acknowledging that the money was used to buy shares in SMC clearly exposes how “a crime has been committed” and that the money of small coconut farmers was plundered to benefit Cojuangco and his cohorts’ business and personal interests.
The peasant leader argued the latest decision the Supreme Court laid down on the issue of the recovery of the ill-gotten wealth affirmed that the 24 percent block of SMC shares was bought using the coconut levy funds, which has been established as public funds.
“In fact, the SC’s latest decision provided the Ombudsman with very strong moral, political, and legal ammunition to indict Cojuangco and his cohorts for plunder of the coco levy funds,” Marbella said.
Last January, the Supreme Court unanimously voted and ruled to re-convey to the government shares in SMC in the aggregate amount of P1.656 billion $38.5 million), which was bought using coconut levy funds and registered in the names of the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) and its holding companies.
“Since the CIIF companies and the CIIF block of SMC shares were acquired using coconut levy funds – funds, which have been established to be public in character – it goes without saying that these acquired corporations and assets ought to be regarded and treated as government assets. Being government properties, they are accordingly owned by the Government, for the coconut industry pursuant to currently existing laws,” the Court ruled.
Marbella pointed out that it is the mandate of the Ombudman to pursue and hold the criminals and plunderers accountable in the crime determined by the Supreme Court.
“The ombudsman is duty-bound to give justice to millions of small coconut farmers, but what we’re seeing now is a direct violation against this same mandate,” he said. “Instead of using the Supreme Court decision on the coco levy funds to indict Cojuangco, the Ombudsman used it to cover-up the crime of plunder.”
The KMP leader said his group is set to file an appeal before the Office of the Ombudsman and warned that small coconut farmers will allow those who stole the coco levy funds to evade justice.
Coconut farmers’ summit
Over 200 small coconut farmer-leaders across the country recently gathered in Lucena City and declared their resolve to reclaim the coco levy funds. The gathering was dubbed the “National Small Coconut Farmers’ Summit,” was sponsored by the militant peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the provincial farmers group Pinag-isang Lakas ng mga Magbubukid sa Quezon (Piglas-Quezon), and the regional peasant alliance Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK). It was attended by farmer-leaders from the coconut-producing regions of Bicol, the provinces of Samar and Leyte in Eastern Visayas, and from the Northern Mindanao and Southern Mindanao regions.
“Cojuangco and his cohorts must pay for their crimes and the injustice they inflicted on small coconut farmers,” he said. “Many coconut farmers have already died without benefitting from the coco levy funds. Only Cojuangco who has controlled and manipulated the funds has benefitted from it. In the guise of developing the coconut industry, he poured them into private investments that enabled him to acquire and expand his business empire and interests.”
Among these investments, Marbella said, were the establishment of several coconut oil mills, the acquisition of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and the purchase of controlling stocks of SMC.
For his part, Piglas-Quezon chair Isidro Fresco said that while Cojuangco maintains control over the funds, the government will also get its illegal share from it.
“Since the funds were put under sequestration in 1986, the government has been exercising control over sequestered shares in SMC, coconut oil mills and other coco levy-financed assets,” Fresco said.
Quezon province is home to more than 204,000 coconut farmer-families that are dependent over 388,664 hectares of coco lands.
The participants of the summit called for the enactment of House Bill 3443 or the proposed Coconut Levy Funds Administration and Management Act filed by Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano that seeks the “Constitution of the Funds into Coconut Farmers’ Fund for the Rehabilitation and Development of the Coconut Industry.”