Cojuangco insists: UCPB shares not 'stolen', meant as payment for his services

The camp of businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr on Thursday insisted that his 7.2-percent shares of stock in United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) should not be returned to the goverment because they were not "stolen" in the first place.

The high court, in a decision last month, had ruled with finality that Cojuangco's shares of stocks in the bank should be returned since the money used to accumulate the equity stake came from public funds—deeming the shares public property.

However, Cojuangco's lawyer Estelito Mendoza, in an interview with reporters in Manila, explained that Cojuangco's 7.2 percent shares in the UCPB was a "just compensation" paid by the Philippine Coconut Authority to him for paving the way for the transfer of UCPB shares to coconut farmers at the option price of P200 per share.

Mendoza added that Cojuangco's 7.2 percent share was also in payment for "performing the management services required of him" during the transfer agreement.

Through a May 1975 agreement, 137,866 shares in UCPB (then called First Union Bank or FUB) were sold by stockholders to Cojuangco—who owned FUB at the time—at the price of P200 per share with an aggregate price of P27,573,200.

Cojuangco, in a second agreement, then sold 144,400 FUB shares to the PCA constituting 72.2 percent of the outstanding capital stock, also at a price of P200 per share.

Mendoza said part of that agreement was that Cojuangco would "receive compensation for exercising his personal and exclusive option to acquire Option Shares, for transferring such shares to the coconut farmers at the option price of P200 per share."

The lawyer added: "The shares of Mr. Cojuangco amounting to 7.22 percent of the capital stock of FUB/UCPB, now in question, were transferred to him by PCA in payment for the above services."

Mendoza stressed that the agreements would not have been executed had it not been for Cojuangco. Mendoza noted that in its decision, the high court upheld the validity of the two agreements entered upon by Cojuangco in 1975.

"The UCPB shares of Mr. Cojuangco were not stolen from the government nor the money with which they were paid," Mendoza said.

"The Supreme Court has now ordered those shares forfeited to the government but it keeps the fruits of those services," he added.

Mendoza stressed that under the Constitution, a private property should not be taken for public use without payment of just compensation.

"The PCA and Mr. Cojuangco agreed what the just compensation would be for the services he would render. The services were rendered and PCA paid the agreed just compensation," he added.

"Parenthetically, conceding that the coconut levy funds are public funds, is not the PCA a government entity and precisely uses public funds? Are not the salaries of President PNoy [Benigno Aquino III] and every government employee for services rendered paid with public funds?" Mendoza said.

The controversial fund came from taxes imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law years by alleged cronies of then President Ferdinand Marcos, including Cojuangco, with the promise of sharing investments and development of the coconut industry.

The collections were allegedly used to fund the personal concerns of the Marcos cronies, including the purchase of FUB and a majority stake in food and beverage giant San Miguel, now a diversified conglomerate.

The fund was sequestered after Marcos was ousted in the February 1986 People Power revolution. — BM, GMA News