The Sandiganbayan says about P74 billion in assets from the Coconut Industry Investment Fund belong to the government and should be distributed to coconut farmers.
In a resolution dated Aug. 7, the anti-graft court’s Second Division invalidated its 2017 decision calling for more hearings on the civil case involving United Coconut Planters Bank and the Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp. or Cocolife by finding for the government.
The government had argued that the Sandiganbayan had no authority to review the landmark Supreme Court ruling declaring the San Miguel Corp. shares in the fund as government property since these were acquired using the coco levy funds that were collected from coconut farmers during the Marcos administration.
In 2014, the high court ruled with finality on the 2004 decision of the Sandiganbayan that awarded the ownership of the coco levy funds to the government.
The Sandiganbayan said the high court decision was final with the issue of ownership the only one to be decided, and despite the fact that it gave UCPB and Cocolife the chance to assert their claim last year.
The Sandiganbayan then issued a writ of partial execution, ordering all the income earned by 20 CIIF companies and the more than 753 million preferred shares of SMC be used to benefit the coconut industry.
“All income, interest or profit derived from these assets are to be used only for the benefit of all coconut farmers and for the development of the coconut industry,” the resolution says.
About P74 billion in coco levy funds is already with the National Treasury, but the Presidential Commission on Good Government said there were billions of pesos more that had yet to be recovered.
The government now faces no legal hurdles to distribute the coco levy funds to farmers, but a law on its implementation has yet to be passed.
President Rodrigo Duterte had urged Congress in his third State of the Nation Address to pass a law creating a trust fund for coconut farmers.
The bicameral conference committee approved a bill last week creating a P100-billion coco levy trust fund to be used for 25 years for the benefit of 3.5-million coconut farmers.
The bill says the fund will be invested in Treasury bills and handled by the Philippine Coconut Authority.