Militants dare Noynoy to speed up recovery of coco levy funds

June 7, 2010 7:06 pm 

By Hannibal C. Talete

MANILA, June 7 -–Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Commissioner Ricardo Abcede on Monday said that militants dared President-apparent Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to speed up the recovery of the billions of pesos in coco levy funds from the control of his uncle, business magnate Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.

Abcede said the militant groups should instead address their challenge to the Supreme Court (SC) since the case was already with the High Court.

“The ultimate decision on the ownership of the coco levy funds rests with the Supreme Court, not with the Executive Branch of our government, and so it is unfair to impose on Sen. Noynoy Aquino a burden over which he has no effective or direct control,” Abcede said in a press conference Monday at the PCGG main office in Mandaluyong City.

“In short, because Noynoy has no authority to decide on the matter one way or the other, neither should he be given the responsibility. No authority, no responsibility,” he said.

Earlier, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano challenged Aquino to recover the coco levy funds from Cojuangco.

But Abcede said Mariano should not fault the High Court for not coming up with a final ruling on the issue yet.

“Our SC justices, unlike Rep. Mariano, are under duty to understand the complexity of issues surrounding the fund, preparatory to putting out an intelligent decision that is defensible on strictly rational grounds alone, minus the emotions and the rabble-rousing that the militants among us are free to stir up under the constitutional rubric of free expression,” he saiad.

But Abcede said the problem of the utilization of coco levy funds should not have been a problem as he turned the table on Mariano for their opposition to the PCGG plan last year to convert the 27.63 percent of common shares stocks at San Miguel Corp. (SMC) into preferred shares.

The conversion of the shares, worth about P65.5 billion, according to Abcede, would have resulted to higher claim on the assets and earnings of the company.

Aside from Mariano, the plan was met with sharp objections from the civic group Kilosbayan, led by former PCGG chairman and Senate President Jovito Salonga, who branded the move as a form of plunder.

Kilosbayan convenors ex-senators Salonga, Bobby Tanada and others said the government already won ownership of some 753.8 million common shares in SMC, which they said could be derailed by the conversion.

Unlike common stocks, preferred shares have a higher claim on the assets and earnings of the company. However, they don't have voting rights. San Miguel has the option to redeem the preferred shares on the third year of the issue.

The SMC shares remain the biggest chunk of assets acquired from the coconut levy imposed during Martial rule.

The issue affects 3.4 million coconut farmers who, together with their families, comprise as much as one-third of the Filipino population.

Abcede also said that even without the SC ruling yet, the farmers were benefiting somehow, directly and indirectly, from the dividend earnings accruing from their SMC common shares – some P1 billion a year – in that these were remitted and deposited with certain trust accounts maintained with United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) Trust Business Group and used to fund additional working capital for the CIIF Oil Mills, pay the premiums for life insurance policies granted to coconut farmers, and fund various coconut replanting and farm development programs and projects. (PNA). RMA/HCT

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