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Court OKs coco levy trial

MANILA, Philippines - After more than 30 years, the Sandiganbayan has decided with finality to proceed with a full-blown trial for two of eight civil cases filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) in connection with the alleged misuse of the coco levy funds during martial law.

In a 13-page resolution promulgated May 9, the anti-graft court’s Second Division affirmed its June 2, 2016 ruling calling for a full trial instead of just issuing a partial summary judgment as asked by the PCGG and OSG.

“As thoroughly discussed by this Court in the assailed Joint Resolution, the remedies of summary judgment and/or judgment on the pleadings are improper because the defendants raised several arguments which tender issues that can only be resolved in a full-blown trial,” the ruling penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick Musngi read.

Associate Justices Oscar Herrera Jr. and Zaldy Trespeses concurred with the ruling.

The ruling covers civil cases 33-B and 33-D filed by the PCGG-OSG against businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., former senator Juan Ponce Enrile and several other alleged cronies of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Case 33-B refers to the disputed ownership of the Cocofed Marketing Corp. (Cocomark) and United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp. (Cocolife). Case 33-D covers the companies created through the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, including United Coconut Oil Mills (Unicom) and 16 other mills.

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In their motion for summary judgment, the PCGG and OSG argued that four previous Supreme Court rulings had declared that coco levy funds are “public funds,” thus the firms created through these must be reconveyed to the government.

The Second Division, however, disagreed with the argument.

“Since the coconut levy funds remain to be prima facie public funds, the same is subject to a rebuttal or contradictory evidence. Even if the coconut levy funds are classified as simply public funds, this will not automatically result in the reconveyance of the subject companies to the government when the defendants made denials of the plaintiff’s material allegations and correspondingly raised genuine issues on the matter,” the ruling read.

“A summary judgment can be rendered only when there are no questions of fact in issue or where the material allegations of the pleading are not disputed,” it added.

During martial law, coconut farmers were made to contribute to the Coconut Industry Development Fund, also known as the coco levy fund, for the supposed development of the coconut industry and to give them shares of investments.

The Supreme Court in several rulings said Marcos and his alleged cronies, including Cojuangco, instead used the funds for personal profit particularly in the purchase of United Coconut Planters Bank and a majority stake in San Miguel Corp.

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