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Danding builds an empire

Earl G. Parreño

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However one sees Danding Cojuangco, the reality is that during Martial Law, he built a business empire so huge it gave him political and economic clout to forge ahead of his rivals

(Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, June 17, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jrtycoon and political kingpin, died at the age of 85. This excerpt is from Boss Danding, the unauthorized biography of , by Earl G. Parreño published in 2003. This is the conclusion of a 9-part series earlier published on the Newsbreak website in late 2009. We are reprinting it in full with permission from the author. As an update to some of the details regarding the Cojuangco sons who were members of Congress: Mark Cojuangco served 3 terms as representative of Pangasinan’s 5th District from 2001 to 2010, when he was succeeded by his wife, Carmen. Charlie Cojuangco also served 3 terms as Negros Occidental 4th District representative from 1998 to 2007. He returned to Congress in 2016, this time representing Tarlac’s 1st District. He was reelected in 2019.)

Danding married Maria Soledad “Gretchen” Cuyugan Oppen on November 22, 1956, a few months after returning from his studies in the US. Gretchen is an heiress of the Montilla family of Bacolod, one of the biggest landowners in Negros Occidental. Danding and Gretchen have four children – two boys and two girls.

Their eldest son, Marcos Juan Bruno or Marc was born on October 6, 1957, and was named after the dictator who was a baptismal godfather of the child. Marc is married to Maria Carmen Josephina Schulze. They have three children – Danielle Marie Josephine, 16; Maria Paola Soledad, 15; and Eduardo Carlos Bruno III, 12.

The other son is Carlos Roberto Santiago nicknamed Charlie, who was born on April 14, 1963. He is married to Maria Rosario “Rio” Diaz, a former actress, and has two children – Claudia, 6 and Jaime, 5.

Danding’s eldest daughter, Margarita Josephina or Tina, was born on October 5, 1958. She is married to Miguel Enrique Ocampo Barrera. They have four children – Eduardo Enrique Marcos, 19; Maria Michelle Beatrice, 18; Ernesto Jose Hilarion, 15; and Monica Nicole, 13.

His youngest daughter, Maria Luisa Angela or Liza, was born on February 8, 1960. She was married to Ed Palma, a former lawyer of her father. They have one daughter named Patricia but their marriage ended in divorce.

Danding’s two sons are now active in politics, too. They are not serving their forebears’ traditional constituency in Tarlac, however. In the May 2001 elections, Marc ran and won the congressional race in Pangasinan’s fifth district. Charlie, on the other hand, is the congressman of the fourth district of Negros Occidental.

Some people perceive Danding as the epitome of greed, a man whose hunger for wealth and power is insatiable, just like his patron Marcos. Ricardo Manapat would say that he “appears to have an even more ominously darker side than being an ordinary grafter and favored Marcos crony.” Danding was supposedly “ruthless.” Some believed him to be “capable of taking lives.” Manapat quoted former US ambassador to Manila, Stephen Bosworth, as saying, “There’s no way Danding could lead within a pluralistic system that held him accountable…He operates best in the netherworld.”

Yet, to other people, he is known to be a generous and compassionate man, a fair employer, and a humble and loyal person who values honesty and sincerity above all.

Mabait ’yang si Boss Danding, galante at mapagbiro (Boss Danding is a kind man, he is generous and humorous),” said Armando Avelino, a former supervisor at the United Janitorial and Manpower Services Corp., which services most of the companies controlled by Danding then. Avelino would fondly recall the many occasions his group would be assigned to clean Danding’s house in New Manila.

“Upon our arrival, we’d go straight to the kitchen. It’s up to you to choose what food to eat for breakfast. And before we started cleaning, Sir will call us, sometimes even while he was still in his bathrobe. Then we would line up. He’d get money from his pocket and hand it to us, P300 each for the other workers and P500 for me because I was the supervisor of the group,” said Avelino.

And he added: “They’d call our group the A-Team because all of our family names start with the letter A. We had a member who was very small and Sir would jokingly say: ‘I’ll just give you P100 because you are still a child,’ and we will all laugh.”

Employees of the United Coconut Planters Bank also have similar stories about Danding.

“We had so many bonuses then. Sometimes, we would be happy if a typhoon would hit the country because then we would be given calamity allowance,” said a clerk assigned at a UCPB branch in Quezon City, adding, “and when Boss Danding is satisfied with your performance, he will give you an additional one month bonus.”

Even a former analyst of the National Intelligence and Coordinating Agency (NICA) had experienced Danding’s well-known generosity. According to him, in 1984, Marcos issued a secret order to investigate the coconut levy fund. It was the third investigation, in fact, that was ordered by the late strongman on the matter. The first, he said, was in 1978 and the second in 1982.

They were five in the team that handled the investigation: two were from NICA and three from the Presidential Economic Staff (PES). An economist from the PES headed the group.

“We had a chance to interview Danding in his house in Negros,” recalled the analyst. “Each member of the team approached him differently. I was very diplomatic, very tactful. The others, especially the head of the group, came on strongly.”

He said that during the interview, Danding was very cordial and accommodating, answering all questions.

“On our way home,” the analyst continued, “at the Bacolod airport, an aide of Danding handed me an envelope, from his Boss, he said. I was the only one given an envelope. I thought those were documents. When we reached Manila, I opened the envelope and it contained P5,000.”

The group was able to draft a report, “quite an explosive one,” he said, but it never reached President Marcos. Staffers of the First Lady had intercepted it. A few weeks after, the PES people who were part of the team were unceremoniously fired from their jobs.

Danding’s farm workers in Negros saw him as a good-hearted landlord. There were even those who opposed plans supposedly to implement the land reform program in his haciendas.

One hacienda worker said: “Employees divide the family into two sides. One side is kind; the other is made up of tigers.” The kind ones, he said, are Danding, Marc and Lisa. “They are approachable, easy to talk with,” he explained.

The tigers, on the other hand, are Gretchen, Carlos and Tina. “You’d be scared to talk with them. They get angry easily. You feel like they’re about to claw you,” he said.

Justices at the Sandiganbayan said the same things.

“He (Danding) is courteous. He defers to authority. He just waits outside the room and does not just barge in if the person he wants to talk to is still busy,” said former Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena.

Fuentes, who has closely observed Danding, described him as a straight talker. “He has no pretensions. And he values honesty and sincerity above all,” she said.

According to her, Danding would still consider you a friend and ally even if you get out from his group to join another. “What is important is you tell him your plans, hindi na malalaman niya na lang sa iba (he doesn’t want to learn about it from other people).”

No doubt, Danding is a complex man. But however one sees him, the reality is that during Martial Law, he built a business empire so huge that it gave him political as well as economic clout to forge ahead of his rivals. –

TOP PHOTO. PASSED AWAY. Eduardo Cojuangco Jr dies at the age of 85 on June 17, 2020. Photo from San Miguel Corporation website

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