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Danding Cojuangco, 85: ‘Boss’ in business, politics, sports

Eduardo“Danding”Cojuangco Jr.

Eduardo“Danding”Cojuangco Jr.—PHOTO COURTESY OF SAN MIGUEL CORP.

MANILA, Philippines — Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. — billionaire tycoon, political kingmaker, Marcos ally and chair of what is now the country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp. (SMC) — died on Tuesday night at the age of 85.

His death came less than a week after his birthday, SMC president Ramon Ang said on Wednesday.

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Cojuangco, who battled various types of cancer for years, succumbed to heart failure at St. Luke’s Medical Center at Bonifacio Global City, according to a source familiar with his health condition.

Cojuangco was listed by Forbes Magazine this year as the 15th richest Filipino with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.

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Apart from his corporate exploits, where he became known as “Boss Danding,” “ECJ” (his initials), or “Pac-Man” for his propensity to acquire other companies, he was also a sports patron and philanthropist.

But it was at the intersection of politics and business, especially his alliance with dictator Ferdinand Marcos, where his circle of influence was at its biggest and most controversial.

Coconut levy funds

As Marcos’ key business adviser in the 1970s, Cojuangco was instrumental in setting up the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, which levied 10 percent to 25 percent of the revenues of the country’s copra farmers to help modernize the industry—all made possible by a Marcos presidential decree.

Estimates of the size of this so-called coco levy fund vary, made more difficult by poor government record keeping.

But his critics say Cojuangco used the money to put up the United Coconut Planters Bank, one of the country’s biggest banks during the Marcos regime, and acquired a controlling stake in food and beverage giant SMC.He fled the country in 1986 after the fall of Marcos, but returned a few years later and placed third in the presidential race in 1992.

In 1998, he backed Joseph Estrada’s presidential run. Soon after, the tycoon regained the helm of SMC, voted in by the government’s board representatives.

His political party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), was, at one point, the country’s largest in terms of membership and often played a crucial swing vote role on key national issues in Congress.

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San Miguel Group

The Presidential Commission on Good Government attempted several times to unseat him from SMC. The government’s stake in the conglomerate was eventually converted into preferred shares, which the group bought out, thereby insulating it from any future political headwinds.

Long before his passing, he handed over the reins of SMC to Ang, who grew Cojuangco’s businesses when the latter left the country after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

Ang bought Cojuangco’s controlling stake in SMC but the latter remained “chairman for life.”

This succession planning was similar to some American tycoons’ practice of leaving their companies in the hands of able managers and only cash inheritance to biological heirs.

The leadership succession in SMC was thus an outlier in the Philippine setting, where corporate succession is highly influenced by bloodline.

“For the memories and all that you taught me, I will always remember you and keep you present,” said Ang, whom Cojuangco had brought into his business empire in the 1980s as his protege. “Thank you for always having my back, Boss ECJ.”

In a statement, San Miguel said Cojuangco guided the SMC Group for decades, “making a difference in the lives of so many of our employees, past and present. Values he lived by—malasakit (empathy), and sama-sama (collective effort), the idea that we either make it together or not at all—are at the heart of what it means to be San Miguel.” “His contributions to our company’s history are numerous and indelible,” the company said, citing Cojuangco’s role in guiding the groups’ expansion, diversification and transformation.

Aside from food and beverage, SMC is now also in infrastructure, power generation, oil refining, banking and property development businesses. It has also expanded its footprint across the region.

“His vision for San Miguel—to be a beacon of hope for the Philippines and a partner in nation-building—remains at the core of everything we do,” the company said. “His impact on many other areas of Philippine life—sports, philanthropy—add to his rich and enduring legacy.”

Tarlac politics

Cojuangco was born in Manila in 1935 to a landed and political family from Tarlac, where he spent his early years.He spent his first year in high school at the Ateneo University but graduated from De La Salle High School. He was barely 17 when his father died.

He briefly studied at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, then enrolled in a two-year program in field crops and agriculture at California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo.

Upon his return, he took over his father’s debt-ridden International Hardwood, which produced plywood and toilet paper. With a bank loan, he established a cement company in Pangasinan which was incorporated in 1967 as Northern Cement Corp.

In politics, he started as a councilor and then served as vice mayor of Paniqui, Tarlac, between 1957 and 1959.

In the mid-’60s, Marcos urged Cojuangco to join his Nacionalista Party in the 1965 elections. He lost the congressional seat to his estranged cousin, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr.

Eventually, Cojuangco was elected Tarlac governor and served from 1967 to 1969. From 1969 to 1972, he finally served as congressman. It was during these years that he formed his friendship and alliance with Marcos.Palace statement

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said through SMC, Cojuangco made “immense contribution to the socioeconomic development of the Philippines,” and provided thousands of jobs directly and through its suppliers and retailers.“The Palace offers its fervent prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of Mr. Cojuangco as we convey our heartfelt condolences to his family, colleagues, friends and loved ones,” he said.

Senators led by his NPC party mates also poured accolades on Cojuangco.

“The vast ocean of entrepreneurship and political leadership will never drift as suavely and smoothly without his engaging presence,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III, one of the most senior members of the party.

Senators

Sen. Grace Poe, who was supported by Cojuangco when she ran for president in 2016, credited him for providing “opportunities for pervasive success as he believed deeply in the capabilities of Filipinos.”

Sen. Lito Lapid, also an NPC member, was grateful to “Boss Danding” for helping him win as Pampanga vice governor, his first venture into politics.

“I will never forget that,” Lapid said in a statement, describing Cojuangco as “a true friend you can count on anytime.”Sen. Sonny Angara praised Cojuangco for his charitable acts which he said the tycoon did with “no accounting of the help he extended to the needy, especially from the provinces close to his heart.”

—With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Marlon Ramos and Inquirer Research

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