By Juan L. Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“I sinned by betraying innocent blood,” Judas Iscariot’s scream reechoes every Holy Week for two millennia now. For 30 pieces of silver, Judas sold out his Friend who was crucified.
Innocent blood is still spilled here on Holy Week 2012. Ferdinand Marcos imposed Presidential Decree 276 in 1973. Thousands of farmers still go to their graves today, clutching worthless coconut levy stock certificates.
PD 276 decreed that “coco levies” were owned by cronies “in their private capacities.” By stroke of a dictator’s pen, taxes morphed into individual loot. If PD 276 is not scrubbed as unconstitutional, then “Marcos found a legal and valid way to steal,” wrote then columnist Antonio Carpio, now a Supreme Court justice.
Under Marcos, the Floirendos got bananas, and Roberto Benedicto oversaw sugar. Eduardo Cojuangco emerged as coconut czar, while Juan Ponce Enrile served as martial law commissar.
Cojuangco’s party tried to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide after the Supreme Court declared coco levies as public funds. Until People Power 2 booted out Erap, cronies slurped into the levy.
“Judas was a thief,” John the Apostle wrote. “As keeper of the money bag, he (Judas) used to help himself to what was put into it.” By the 14th century, Canto 34 of Dante’s inferno depicts a Judas chained to the lowest circle reserved for Quislings. In today’s dictionaries, his name is synonymous with traitor.
What was this man from the region of Kerioth really like? We first hear of Judas when Christ invites 12 men to “come, follow me.” Judas left family and home in response. Over the next three years, he’d hear the Galilean insist repeatedly: “A man’s life does not consist in abundance of his possessions.”
“From the Gospels, we know only about activities of 100 days from 12,045 days of Jesus’ life,” observers note. “Yet, we know almost everything He did every hour of His last seven days.”
In the first Holy Week, Judas reappears at Bethany, home of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. He is aghast when Mary pours an alabaster jar of costly nard to anoint Jesus. “The fragrance filled the whole house,” John quotes Judas, “Why was this ointment not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” Feigned anxiety for the poor masked greed.
“Let her alone,” Jesus shushed Judas. “She anointed my body beforehand for burial…. Wherever the Gospel is preached… what this woman did shall be spoken of.” In contrast, Judas is remembered as someone who knew the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
“Helpless to understand Christ, (Judas) believed in Him, much more than most of us do,” critic John Ruskin argues in “The Crown of Wild Olive.” Having seen his miracles, he figured Jesus could shift for Himself. So, he might as well cash in, too. “Christ would come out of it well enough. And he would have his 30 pieces.”
Well, business tycoon Cojuangco also gets to keep his 16.2 million SMC (San Miguel Corp.) shares—thanks to a majority of Arroyo justices in today’s Supreme Court.
Under martial law, those SMC shares were bought with coco levy funds (wrung from United Coconut Planter’s Bank) and advances (from Coconut Industry Investment Fund), recalls Inquirer in a three-part series titled “Coconut calvary.” Peter merely robbed Paul. Still, the Court ruled the shares were “legally acquired” by Cojuangco.
“The joke of the century,” snapped then Justice Conchita Carpio Morales. Cojuangco “used for his personal benefit the very same funds entrusted to him. (These) were released to him through illegal and improper machination of loan transactions. (His) contravention of corporation laws… indicates a clear violation of fiduciary duty.”
Indeed, Cojuangco’s stake in SMC was “built on the sweat of coconut farmers,” Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno wrote. “Prescription, laches or estoppel will not bar future action to recover unlawfully acquired property by public officials or dummies.”
When Judas saw Jesus was condemned, he brought the money back to the chief priest. Cojuangco won’t return a centavo. What is that to us, the elders sneered. “Throwing down the coins in the temple, Judas departed… and hanged himself.”
In Matthew’s account, the priests nitpick, “‘This is the price of blood. This money cannot be put into the treasury.’ So they bought a potter’s field for a cemetery… called Akeldama or ‘Field of Blood’ to this day.”
Now 88, Enrile is in a “legacy mode,” Inquirer reports. It is no longer possible to give the (levy) back to the farmers. He proposes that Congress pass Senate Bill 2978 establishing the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund. The House counterpart is House Bill 3443. These would liquify a 24-percent bloc of levy funds. The interest, collected at market rates, will meet industry needs, including the urgent replanting of aging plantations.
All eyes, however, are on President Aquino. Only he has the political and administrative clout to end four decades of bleeding coconut farmers. Malacañang assures everyone P-Noy won’t buckle. This historical window of opportunity, however, won’t stay open for long.
The Supreme Court issued, last March 16, an “entry of judgment”: Cojuangco’s P56.3-billion SMC shares are now “final.” Thus, SMC stock certificates in blank, found in a Malacañang vault when Marcos left for Hawaii, “legally” belong to Cojuangco. Billionaires have the luxury of final judgments. Lowly PAL employees get “final decisions” reopened.
Judas left the Last Supper to get his claim for 30 pieces. That’d be the price for his kiss for pinpointing Christ to the arresting soldiers. “It was night,” the Gospels say.
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