by Joyce Pangco Pañares
Manila Standard Today
GENERAL SANTOS CITY—President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday ordered his legal team to review and recommend possible action on the Supreme Court ruling upholding businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.’s rights to his shares in San Miguel Corp.
“I have tasked our legal counsel to give a briefer,” Mr. Aquino said.
“This is a very involved case and I want to know what our appropriate actions will be depending on their recommendation.
“The legal opinion has to be correct and given at the soonest possible time. Any comment I make now will be based on observations of people reacting to the ruling and that puts me at a disadvantage.”
Cojuangco, a cousin of the late former President Corazon Aquino, is Mr. Aquino’s uncle.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday said Cojuangco’s 20-percent stake in San Miguel did not form part of the so-called coconut levy funds and as such did not belong to the government.
The coconut levy was a tax exacted from coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982, during the term of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Cojuangco and other Marcos-era officials acquired the United Coconut Planters Bank using the coconut levy funds.
But in 1983 Cojuangco, using United Coconut Planters Bank, was said to have borrowed money to acquire for himself the disputed 20-percent stake.
UCPB was the depository of the multi-billion-peso national coconut levy fund collected by the government.
The Presidential Commission on Good Government said it will file a motion for consideration with the Supreme Court. A coconut farmers group, the Coconut Industry Reform Movement, will also ask the justices to reconsider their ruling.
The group’s leader, Joey Faustino, said the decision would make it more difficult for the government and coconut farmers to prevail on another contested block of shares in San Miguel, which he said was illegally acquired by big coconut producers associated with Cojuangco and Marcos.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, meanwhile, said he was a witness to Cojuangco’s purchase of the shares, which he described as legitimate.
“Danding [Cojuangco] was the one who bought those shares for himself. I was there,” Enrile said.
He said Cojuangco had secured a loan from the United Coconut Planters Bank to buy the 20 percent stake in San Miguel.
“It was a legitimate loan. He paid for it.”
Enrile said that while the loan that Cojuangco had received might have come from the coconut levy, it did not mean the shares he had bought using those funds were owned by coconut farmers.
But Senator Joker Arroyo, who was the executive secretary of Mr. Aquino’s mother, described the Supreme Court decision as a defeat for the administration and criticized the President for his “lukewarm reaction” to the case.
He said the claim against Cojuangco was among the first cases filed after Mrs. Aquino issued Executive Order 1 creating the Presidential Commission on Good Government to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.
“After 25 long years, and after seven high courts starting with Teehankee, Fernan, Narvasa, Davide, Panganiban, Puno and Corona, the Supreme Court ruled that Danding is the owner, plain and simple—not the coconut farmers who paid for the levies which were collected by the government,” Arroyo said.
“Predictably, the government’s lukewarm reaction to its defeat by the Supreme Court, which it loves to hate, is very revealing.”
A left-leaning lawmaker in the House, meanwhile, dared the President to break his silence on the ruling.
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano accused President Aquino of entering into a “sweetheart deal” with his uncle and described the Supreme Court decision “a distortion of history.” With Christine F. Herrera and Rey T. Salita