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Supreme Court upholds Danding on SMC shares

April 12, 2011 8:03pm
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco’s 20-percent stake in San Miguel Corp. (SMC) does not form part of the so-called coco levy funds and does not belong to the Philippine government.

Coco levy is a tax exacted from coconut farmers from 1973 to 1982, during the term of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Cojuangco and Marcos-era officials bought the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) using coco levy funds.

A perceived Marcos crony, Cojuangco is the uncle of incumbent President Benigno Aquino III and first cousin of Aquino's mother, the late former President Cory Aquino.

In a 73-page ruling promulgated on Tuesday, the high court dismissed the petition filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which sought to reverse the Sandiganbayan's ruling in 2007.

The Sandiganbayan ruled that Cojuangco, as chair of SMC, is the rightful owner of the contested shares.

In affirming the Sandiganbayan, the Supreme Court held: “The block of shares in San Miguel Corp. in the names of respondent Cojuangco, et al.... the exclusive property of Cojuangco et al. as registered owners."

“Accordingly, the lifting and setting aside of the writ of sequestration affecting said block of shares… are affirmed and the annotation of the conditions prescribed in the resolutions promulgated on October 8, 2003 and June 24, 2005 is canceled," added the ruling written by SC Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin.

The SC handed down its decision in Baguio City, where the justices are holding their annual summer session.

Those who concurred with the ruling were Chief Justice Renato Corona and SC Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, and Martin Villarama.

Those who dissented were SC Associate Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Arturo Brion, Jose Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, and Eduardo Nachura inhibited themselves from the case. Carpio was among the original petitioners in the bid to declare the coco levy funds as public funds, while Nachura was involved in the case when he was solicitor general. Peralta, for his part, was with the Sandiganbayan when the case was at the anti-graft court's level.

Coco levy and SMC

In 1983, the Cojuangco-controlled UCPB acquired shares of stock in SMC. UCPB was the administrator of a block of shares that included a 27-percent stake in SMC. This block is composed of several companies formed using the coco levy funds.

Apart from UCPB's block of shares, Cojuangco also controls another 20 percent of the shares.

But the government, through the PCGG, also claimed ownership of these 20-percent share-holdings, saying these were also acquired using coco levy funds. The government argued that the subject shares should have been deemed purchased using public funds because these were purchased supposedly using UCPB funds.

In November 2007, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the government's claim to the shares. It said that the government failed to substantiate its claim that the contested shares were bought by Cojuangco’s group using the coco levy funds.

The PCGG then appealed the anti-graft court's ruling to the Supreme Court.

In May 2009, Cojuangco asked the high court to resolve PCGG's suit, adding that the case has been deemed submitted for resolution since July 2008.

Cojuangco argued that his right as the owner of SMC shares was "curtailed and limited" after the PCGG sequestered the contested SMC shares in 1986 and 1987 and charged him for amassing ill-gotten wealth,

"The owners of the shares could not freely sell, encumber or otherwise exercise rights of ownership over the shares. The resulting damage and injury needs no proof. And since the plaintiff is the Republic of the Philippines, it is futile to expect any possible compensation for the injury and damage sustained," Cojuangco said in his pleading, filed through veteran lawyer Estelito Mendoza. – MRT/KBK/VS/HS, GMA News



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