Philippine government to appeal court's return of seized San Miguel Corp. shares

TERESA CEROJANO, Associated Press Writer

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration said Thursday it will appeal an anti-graft court's ruling ordering the government to return a 20 percent stake in food and drinks giant San Miguel Corp. to an investor group led by a likely opposition presidential candidate.

The Sandiganbayan anti-graft court on Wednesday lifted an order by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which seized a 47 percent stake in San Miguel 17 years ago on allegations it was acquired by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco's group using funds for the development of the coconut industry.

Cojuangco's group has denied the claim, saying the shares were acquired using private funds.

The commission was created in 1986 to go after the ill-gotten wealth of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and his associates, including Cojuangco.

"We'll probably not take the decision sitting down, and our PCGG will file a motion for reconsideration," Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, told DZRH radio.

Bunye denied speculation that the ruling was influenced by the presidential palace as part of a "secret deal" to persuade Cojuangco to abandon plans to challenge Arroyo in the May 2004 elections.

"Definitely there is no such thing," Bunye said, adding that Arroyo respects the independence of the anti-graft court.

Cojuangco -- who lost the 1992 presidential race -- says he is still undecided whether he will run.

Of the seized San Miguel shares, a 27 percent stake belonged to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, administered by the United Coconut Planters Bank. Cojuangco is also disputing control of the UCPB, which he said was also acquired using private funds.

A 1998 Supreme Court ruling allowed Cojuangco to vote on the 20 percent stake, but left to the Sandiganbayan to determine its ownership. The stake gave Cojuangco's group three seats on San Miguel's 15-member board.

The court placed limits on how Cojuangco's group could handle the shares since the government "continues to hold a claim on the shares which is yet to be resolved."


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