SC dismisses coco levy graft case vs. JPE ahead of 99th birthday

By Benjamin Pulta

February 9, 2023, 7:05 pm

MANILA -- The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed the graft charges filed against former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile along with several others in connection with the coconut levy fund, citing the government’s failure to substantiate the delays in pursuing the case.

In its 52-page decision published online on Wednesday, the Court's First Division dismissed the complaint against Enrile, who turns 99 years old next week, due to "violation of their constitutional right to a speedy disposition of the cases."

Apart from Enrile, also covered by the order are businessman Jose Concepcion, Rolando dela Cuesta, Narciso Pineda and Danilo Ursua.

The court also ordered the dismissal of the same case against Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., Jose Eleazar, Maria Clara Lobregat, and Augusto Orosa in view of their supervening deaths.

"Taken in its entirety, there is a clear violation of the respondents' constitutional right to speedy disposition of cases when petitioner republic failed to provide sufficient justification in the termination of the preliminary investigation. Consequently, a dismissal of the case is warranted," the SC said.

“Allowing the case to proceed would unfairly burden the respondents. With this case pending for over 30 years and possibly more without assurance of its resolution, the Court recognizes that the tactical disadvantages carried by the passage of time should be weighed against the petitioner Republic and in favor of the respondents, Certainly, if this case were remanded for further proceedings, the already long delay would drag on longer," the High Court said.

The SC added that the government failed to establish that the delay was reasonable and justified.

"In particular, petitioner Republic did not prove that it followed the prescribed procedure in the conduct of preliminary investigation and the prosecution of the case, the complexity of the issued and the volume of evidence made the delay inevitable and (that) no prejudice was suffered by the accused as a result of the delay," it said.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) representing the republic had taken the case to the SC after then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto in 1998, following the review and recommendation of graft investigator Emora Pagunuran, had dismissed the graft complaint filed against Enrile and the other respondents.

The Ombudsman said the complaint should be dismissed on the ground of proscription of the offense prompting the government to question Desierto's ruling before the High Court.

The case arose from a complaint filed by the Office of the Solicitor General before the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) which was subsequently referred to the Ombudsman.

It involved the decision on April 19,1983 of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) board of directors where Cojuangco was president and Enrile was chairman in connection with the resolution of a Board of Administrators (BOA) decision awarding liquidated damages of PHP958 million from the Coconut Industry Development Fund (CIDF) to a private corporation, Agricultural Investors Inc. (AII).

AII started a coconut seed garden in Bugsuk Island, Palawan province in 1972 two years before President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 582 creating the CIDF which was administered by the Philippine National Bank (PNB) through its subsidiary the National Investment Development Corp. (NIDC).

The CIDF was to finance a nationwide coconut replanting program with an initial capital of PHP100 million from the Coconut Consumers Stabilization Fund (CCSF) levied by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). The NIDC's purpose was to ensure a continuous supply of high yielding hybrid coconut seed nuts by distributing the hybrid seed nuts from AII for free.

NIDC was later on substituted by UCPB as administrator of the CIDF after the bank was obtained by the government through the CCSF. It also substituted NIDC in its Memorandum of Agreement with AII.

In 1982 however, President Ferdinand E. Marcos lifted the CCSF coconut levy depleting the CIDF and prompting UCPB to terminate its MOA with AII. AII then demanded arbitration for UCPB's obligations and on March 29,1983, the BOA awarded the PHP 958 million in liquidated damages. From the sum was deducted P 426 million which had been advanced by the NIDC for the development of the seed garden. The BOA also granted the payment of arbitration fee of P150,000.

The complaint said that in its board meeting, the UCPB board under Cojuangco and Enrile "noted" the BOA's findings and allowing it to lapse into effect. (PNA)