Law Dean Nilo Divina has denied any impropriety in his law firm's handling of two cases involving the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) where he is a director, amid accusations of conflict of interest by two groups.

The National Coalition of Filipino Consumers and the group Coco Levy Funds Ibalik sa Amin last month asked Divina to resign from either one of his posts in UCPB, and for President Benigno Aquino III to sack the bank's board of directors for allowing the Divina Law Offices to act as external counsel for the bank.

The two cases were filed by UCPB and the United Coconut Planters Life Assurance Corp. against the Presidential Commission on Good Government, an agency tasked to recover Marcos ill-gotten wealth; and the Coconut Industry Investment Fund Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG).

UCPB asked the Makati Regional Trial Court in September 2012 to declare that the bank owns P15.6 billion of P71 billion worth of CIIF-OMG shares in San Miguel Corp. The bank, owned by the government and coconut farmers through coconut levy funds, contends that the portion of the shares was bought using its own resources, not coco levy funds that the Supreme Court declared as publicly owned in January 2012.

Critics claimed Divina, a government appointee to the UCPB board, could be charged for violating Republic Act (RA) 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for handling UCPB's cases. But Divina said his role as external legal counsel was limited to supervision. "I did not solicit the accounts. The bank referred to us the cases because these are very important cases to them. Probably, they thought they needed an expert in commercial law that's why they referred [the cases] to us. I do not go to court for these cases," Divina told the Varsitarian.

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He added that he had inhibited himself from deliberations and voting during board meetings, and that he had waived legal fees due him.

"There is no conflict of interest because I have not taken any interest against the bank. I'm protecting the interest of the bank. The interest of the bank and our interest as a law firm defending the bank are congruent," said Divina.

"I acted in accordance with the law, ethics, and good governance. Instead of being criticized and accused, I think the effort should be appreciated. What do I do with these accusations? I just pray for them," he said.

Farmers’ interests

UCPB is not out to benefit from coconut farmers' money but wants to get the San Miguel shares to help the farmers, Divina said. Money invested by UCPB is divided into funds owned by the bank and the coco levy funds, he explained.

"UCPB is entitled to a portion of the San Miguel shares because these are its own funds. UCPB is also owned by the farmers [and] the government, so there is no conflict. Ang question lang, kanino ba talaga 'yung pera? Is it UCPB, which is owned by the government and the coco levy farmers? Or is it owned by the government? So wala namang kinukuha from one company to the other," he said.

Divina said the farmers would benefit should UCPB win the case.

"We are protecting the interest of the bank, which includes the interest of the coco levy farmers. Do we just give up easily about P7.2 billion of investment?" said Divina. "If the bank will be able to get this investment, who will benefit? Not us, because we do not own the money. It would benefit the government and the coconut farmers." Lord Bien G. Lelay and Gena Myrtle P. Terre

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