Manila, July 12, 2003 By Delon Porcalla (Star) Businessman and presidential aspirant Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco lost ownership of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) after the Sandiganbayan declared last night that the coconut levy fund used to acquire the bank was a public fund. The ruling, which ended 16 years of litigation, held that Cojuangco’s total 95,304 UCPB shares, which form part of the 72.2 percent UCPB stake, and which was paid for by the Philippine Coconut Authority through the coconut levy funds in 1975, were "conclusively owned by the Republic of the Philippines."

"The shares of stock of the UCPB transferred to Cojuangco are hereby declared conclusively owned by the Republic," the San-diganbayan’s First Division stated in its 84-page partial summary judgment.

It added that funds charged to the Coconut Consumer Stabilization Fund (CCSF) are the government’s, which is the "true and beneficial owner."

The ruling, penned by chairman Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, also held that the 64.98 percent shares of Cojuangco in UCPB, which are claimed by Zamboanga Mayor Ma. Clara Lobregat, are also not hers but are public funds.

Justices Diosdado Peralta and Francisco Villarus Jr. concurred in the ruling.

The landmark ruling came two years after the Supreme Court ruled in December 2001 that the coco levy funds are "prima facie public funds," which became the anti-graft court’s basis for finding out whether Cojuangco had indeed utilized the funds in acquiring UCPB, but which may have been used to acquire a total of 47 percent shares in San Miguel Corp., 20 percent of which are registered in the name of Cojuangco. The 27 percent is sequestered.

The anti-graft court granted the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 2002 on one of the eight subdivided government suits, which sought to recover the coconut levy funds, now totaling an estimated P150 billion.

Schemes used by Cojuangco and his dummies were unlawful, according to the trial court, because funds sourced from their acquisition came from the coconut farmers who paid the amount during martial law.

The court ruled that the PCA-Cojuangco May 1975 agreement was not binding because it was never published.

The ownership issue in food and beverage giant SMC has not been settled, however, although the pending civil case was ordered by the first division to "proceed."

"Let the trial of this civil case proceed with respect to the issues which have not been disposed of in this partial summary judgment," it said.

Sections 1 and 2 of Presidential Decree 755, the source of the PCA to farm out UCPB shares to the still undetermined farmers, were also declared unconstitutional by the Sandiganbayan. It said the Marcos law allowed the use of the CCSF to benefit directly - through interests — courtesy of the absolute UCPB ownership shares, from which were the coconut levy funds.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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