May 27, 2018, 5:35 pm
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Sandiganbayan insists on full trial in 29-year-old coco levy cases

THE Sandiganbayan has shut down any chance of an early resolution for two coconut levy cases as it denied with finality the government’s bid for abbreviated proceedings.

In a 13-page page resolution promulgated last May 9, the anti-graft court’s Second Division affirmed its June 2, 2016 resolution that ordered a full-blown trial into the question of rightful ownership over the Cocofed Marketing Corporation (Cocomark) and United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corporation (Cocolife) involved in Civil Case No. 0033-B; and companies formed using the Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) particularly United Coconut Oil Mills (Unicom) and the 16 CIIF oil mills including their cash assets and other properties under Civil Case No. 0033-D.

The ruling came just as the original complaint in Civil Case No. 0033 is about to turn 30-years old since being filed on July 31, 1987 by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).

In 1995, citing the sheer number of individual and corporate defendants involved as well as the complexity of the transactions, the Sandiganbayan ordered the case divided into eight sub-cases based on the coconut levy fund used and the nature of assets involved.

Slicing up the main case has hardly helped as several of the sub-cases, including Civil Cases 0033-B and 0033-D, have yet to see the start of trial proper, 22 years after being culled.

The value of the assets involved in the dispute is a major reason.

Based on a 2011 report by the PCGG, the sequestered Cocolife has revenues totaling P3.32 billion and a net income of P241.76 million.

In the same report, the commission cited CIIF Oil Mills Group as posting revenues of P16.66 billion and a net income of P149 million for the year.

When it denied the government’s motion for partial summary judgment in both cases, the Sandiganbayan held that rendering a decision based solely on the submissions on record would be improper in light of pending genuine issues that can only be threshed out in a full trial.

These issues include the question on the nature of Cocolife and Cocomark as a private or state-owned companies, the legality and constitutionality of statutes that were used as basis for disbursement of the coconut levy funds, and the alleged discrepancy in the causes of action raised in the original complaint compared to the ones cited in the amended complaints.
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