Businessman and political kingpin Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., who acquired control of San Miguel Corp., Southeast Asia’s largest food and beverage conglomerate, under the Marcos dictatorship, passed away Tuesday night. He was 85.
Cojuangco was a Tarlac politician who became close to the strongman Ferdinand Marcos, and was part of the “Rolex 12” group that helped implement Martial Law in 1972.
The late former president Corazon Aquino, installed to power after the 1986 EDSA revolt that toppled Marcos, is said to have suspected Cojuangco of having a hand in the 1983 assassination of her husband, ex-senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
Cojuangco came to control San Miguel Corp. by way of the United Coconut Planters’ Bank (UCPB), the state-backed lender that took in billions in interest-free funds from coconut levies imposed by Marcos on coconut farmers.
UCPB was formerly the First United Bank that the Philippine Coconut Authority took over from Cojuangco, who sat on the board of the government agency. Cojuangco became president of UCPB.
The coconut levy, at P0.55 for the first 100 kilograms of copra output, was supposed to be used for the “development” of the coconut industry, a key agriculture export. Instead, it was used to acquire various assets such as oil mills and shares in San Miguel.
To complete the takeover of the food and beverage giant, Cojuangco found an ally in Enrique Zobel, who wanted to dispose of a 20-percent stake held by his Ayala Corp. amid a high-profile feud with Andres Soriano Jr., who ran San Miguel. Cojuangco became chairman of San Miguel in 1984.
The coco levy has been labelled a “scam,” and proceeds were declared public in character, to be used for the benefit of coconut farmers, by the Supreme Court in 2001
Cojuangco’s reign in San Miguel was cut short by the 1986 revolution, and President Aquino ordered his assets sequestered. Cojuangco went in exile to Australia.
Returning to the Philippines in 1989, Cojuangco sought to succeed his estranged cousin, Aquino, and prepared for a presidential run.
He placed third in the 1992 elections, but his political vehicle, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) formed by breakaway members of the old Nacionalista Party, continues to be a political force, aligned with the Duterte administration.
Cojuangco regained control of San Miguel in 1998 under a friendly government led by Joseph Estrada, who was his running mate in 1992.
Known as “Boss Danding,” Cojuangco supported charitable causes and was a “godfather” to Philippine basketball, maintaining several basketball teams in the Philippine Basketball Association and supporting the Green Archers team of his alma mater, De La Salle University.
In 2012, he handed control of San Miguel to a trusted lieutenant, Ramon Ang.
Cojuangco was married to Soledad Oppen Cojuangco and had six children, including Charlie and Mark, who became politicians.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, the highest-ranking NPC official, tweeted: “I join the nation in mourning the passing of a titan in Philippine business and politics.”
The Palace was “deeply saddened” by the death of Cojuangco, with spokesman Harry Roque praising the late businessman’s “immense contribution to the socioeconomic development of the Philippines.” (PressONE.ph)
Preview image: San Miguel Corp.