Partial Redemption

Former Rep. Mark  Cojuangco  went “ballistic” on a TV-talk show  this  week.  The ex-Pangasinan  legislator flared at   persistent criticism  over a Supreme Court award of 16.2 million San Miguel Corporation shares, to his father: tycoon  Eduardo “Danding”  Cojuangco.

My father “had a right”  to those shares”, said Mark.  Instead of being panned, Danding should be credited for setting up  a replanting program and “petrochemical plants to add value to the coconut”.  Dear Ol’ Dad” was then Marcos’ coconut czar.

Close association between Ferdinand Marcos and  Cojuangco had not been proved, the High Court claimed last April. This was essential to establish a case for ill-gotten wealth.

‘The biggest joke to hit the century”, Justice Conchita Carpio snapped  in a scathing dissent. Cojunagco’s SMC bonanaza were bought from levies Marcos’ dictatorship wrung from indigent coconut farmers.

People Power I also banished the Cojuangcos to Hawaii  “The only time I was able to see President Marcos a lot was during our exile in Hawaii after EDSA 1986,” recalls Mark, whose parents named him after Marcos.

“The dictionary definition of crony is buddy or pal of similar age. My father is much much younger than Marcos. He respected Marcos as a leader”,  Cojuangco said. “But to say he was a crony, dictated on by the President, malayo po yon.”

Not so, wrote Justice Lourdes Sereno in her dissent on the SMC fracas. Sapped by the martial law levy, coconut farmers “in effect financed expansion of the business empire of Eduardo Cojuangco. Illicit acts were obscured by a corporate layering scheme.

Four sets of evidence, prove  “Cojuangco’s close association with Marcos and the “behest” nature of loans used to finance purchase of SMC stocks.

(1) Marcos appointed Cojuangco to head  both Philippine Coconut Authority and United Coconut Planters Bank. Through these positions, buttressed by a series of “tailored” executive issuances by  Marcos, he employed a scheme of corporate layering and multi-level loan transactions to divert public funds.

How? Cojunagco brokered  terms of UCPB in his favor. Coco levy funds were deposited interest-free at UCPB, “which administered them as it pleased.”  As UCPB president, Cojunagcio wrung “substantial loans used to purchase the SMC shares, directly in his name or “indirectly through his dummy corporations. He used prima facie public funds (derived from the coco levy) in CIIF Oil Mills to snap up substantial amounts of SMC “ stocks.

Shell firms were whistled up “for the sole reason of purchasing SMC shares.”  These “fronts” parceled “favorably obtained credit from UCPB to different entities.” There’d be no paper trail, leading to “a single natural person who had control and management of the bank.”

“These anomalous transactions were built on the sweat of coconut farmers. (They), left an indelible mark in the country’s history of recovering ill-gotten wealth” Sereno wrote. “The Court majority effectively impeded gains to retrieve public funds misappropriated by Marcos cronies.

(2) Previous characterization of Cojuangco, by the Supreme  Court no less, “affirms what has long been within the realm of public knowledge – that  Cojuangco is a “close associate” of Marcos.

The tribunal  upheld a Court of Appeals decision that Philippine Charity Sweepstakes’ Fernando Carrascoso, Jr. rightly  withheld  Danding’s winnings in several horse races.

“There is no denying that plaintiff is a very close political and business associate of the former President, “ the Supreme  Court said. “ (Thus) Carrascoso could not be faulted in asking further instructions from  PCGG…on what to do with the prizes.

“After approving a lower court’s judicial notice of what is accepted public knowledge, the Court can no longer backpedal, a decade later,  to deny close association between (Marcos and Cojuangco) for alleged lack of “competent evidence”  Sereno wrote.

(3) Two blocks of Bulletin Publishing Corporation shares – 46,626 and 90,877  — in the name of Eduardo Cojuangco, were in fact “ill-gotten wealth” of the Marcoses, the Court ruled in  Republic vs. Estate of Hans Menzi.

Cojuangco acted as “dummy, nominee or agent” of Ferdinand. Marcos and Imelda Romualdez Marcos in acquiring Manila  Bulletin shares.  Proceeds from sale of  198,052  Bulletin shares. (90,866 stashed in Jose Campos’ name and 16,309 by Cesar Zalamea) were “forfeited in favor of government.

(4) In a controversy over a Falcon aircraft,  leased by a Hong Kong Faysound Limited to a United Coconut Chemicals, two US District Courts concluded:  Cojuangco was a “multimillionaire businessman, with substantial interest in UNICHEM,  undoubtedly a close friend and adviser to Marcos.”

“Cojuangco does not, deny, nor is he ashamed of, his relationship with the late dictator. But he distances himself from Marcos’s greed. If crony capitalism of Marcos dictatorship is slowly erased from public memory”, martial law revisionism  will triumph in the future.

“The lesson (to) be learned,  from the national trauma that was the rule of Marcos, is kleptocracy cannot pay”, Sereno wrote.  A time  may come ‘when the legal impediment presented before the Court today is lifted. That could stem from newly discovered evidence or another justifiable reason.

The  future may yet present an “opportunity to revisit the ruling of this Court — and Philippine history may have a chance to be redeemed in part.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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