MANILA, Philippines - Coconut farmers trooped to the Supreme Court on Thursday to file a formal complaint with the high court's Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards against the high tribunal's April 12, 2011 decision on the sequestration and ownership of 27,198,545 shares or 20% of the outstanding capital stock of diversifying conglomerate San Miguel Corp. (SMC), purportedly bought through coconut levy funds alleged as "ill-gotten wealth."
The Manila Police District (MPD) put up a barricade at the corner of Taft Ave. and Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila, to block the farmers from getting close to the gates of the Supreme Court.
The MPD estimated the number of protesting farmers at more or less 1,000.
The 3-page complaint coursed through the office of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who heads the committee, lamented the supposed "creation of a new definition of ill-gotten wealth" by the high tribunal, through the ponencia of Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, when it ruled that the funds used to purchase subject SMC shares were not ill-gotten.
"[W]ala diumanong maliwanag na depinisyon na nasasaad sa batas patungkol sa nakaw na yaman o ill-gotten wealth. Simple lamang ang aming tanong: meron nga ba o wala? Dahil kung meron naman pala --at sa halip nito, lumikha ang Kataas-taasang Hukuman ng sarili nitong depinisyon -- hindi ba't paglabag ito sa alituntunin ng Saligang Batas?" the complaint read.
The April 2011 decision involved 3 consolidated petitions filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Gov't. (PCGG) against the Sandiganbayan, Cojuangco, and several others, including former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, and former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos. The first civil case was filed on July 31, 1987, over a year after the EDSA people power revolt.
The PCGG alleged that Cojuangco, a "close associate" of Pres. Marcos, acquired the subject SMC shares by "unlawfully using the coconut levy funds during the Marcos regime in betrayal of public trust and with brazen abuse of power."
Sufficient, competent evidence
In the said ruling, the high court held that government, through the PCGG, failed to establish its allegations "with preponderant competent evidence."
"[T]he fact that property was ill-gotten could not be presumed but must be substantiated with competent proof adduced in proper judicial proceedings. That the Republic opted not to adduce competent evidence thereon despite stern reminders and warnings from the Sandiganbayan to do so revealed that the Republic did not have the competent evidence to prove its allegations against Cojuangco, et al.," the high court said.
The high court further pointed out that 2 concurring elements need to be present before assets/properties could be considered ill-gotten wealth: "(a) they must have 'originated from the government itself,' and (b) they must have been taken by former Pres. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, and close associates by illegal means."
These were not the only requirements, the high court said, since, in order to "complete the definition of ill-gotten wealth," the assets/properties "should have been amassed by former Pres. Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, and close associates both here and abroad."
The difficulty lied with identifying who might be the "close associates" of Marcos, the decision stressed, since it would be unfair to label everyone who knew the Marcoses as their "close associates."
The ruling also stressed that a "balance must be sought" and "adequate protection assured" that fundamental rights of private property and free enterprise are preserved.
Definition of ill-gotten wealth clear
In their complaint, the farmers vehemently disagreed with the ruling, stating that the definition of ill-gotten wealth was contained in the Rules and Regulations of the PCGG.
The farmers also cited the "conflicting decisions" of the high court on the ownership of SMC shares, citing the decision in January of this year, penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr., where the high court ruled, among others, that another block of SMC shares representing 27% of the total capital stock of the company was owned by the government and to be used exclusively for the benefit of coconut farmers.
This case involved 33,133,266 SMC shares as of 1983, purchased through CIIF Oil Mills funds.
In this decision, the high court ruled that the CIIF companies and the CIIF block of shares are public funds owned by the government.
"Through the years, a part of the coconut levy funds went directly or indirectly to various projects and/or was converted into different assets or investments. Of particular relevance to this case was their use to acquire the First United Bank (FUB), later renamed UCPB, and the acquisition by UCPB, through the CIIF companies, of a large block of SMC shares," the decision read.
The high court, however, specifically pointed out that the other block of SMC shares (subject of the April 2011 decision), is a separate block of shares, "irrelevant to the disposition of the case" involving the CIIF block of SMC shares.
In spite of this, the coconut farmers are asking the Ethics Committee to investigate the April 2011 decision, reopen the case, and ultimately rule in their favor.
"[H]indi mabigyang kasagutan ng desisyon (April 2011) ng Korte Suprema ang aming mga katanungan, kami ngayon ay dumudulog sa inyo (Ethics Committee) at humihiling ng kapaliwanagan sa mga kabalintunaang ito -- at kung may matukoy man kayong mga kamalian, umaasa kaming pananagutin ang mga taong ito, maging abugado man o mahistrado ng Korte Suprema na siyang responsable sa paghahanda at pagsusulat ng desisyong ito," the farmers' complaint read.