Where did the Cojuangcos’ wealth really come from?

Where did the Cojuangcos’ wealth really come from?
Neighbors didn’t believe the family made it all from rice milling, trading, and money lending

(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 Cojuangco, by Earl G. Parreño published in 2003. This is the 4th 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.)


At the turn of the century, with the Spanish forces decisively defeated by the Filipino revolutionaries, the first Philippine Republic was established. In ceremonies held at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, on January 23, 1899, General Emilio Aguinaldo was proclaimed president of the republic and the Constitution was approved. Unfortunately, the republic did not live long as the Americans colonized the nation and crushed the republic in a bloody war that lasted until 1902.

The Philippine-American War, which had begun in February 4, 1899, caused unparalleled grief to millions of Filipinos. The US occupation army killed an estimated 200,000 people as the Filipino revolutionaries persisted in their struggle to keep the country free from foreign rule. The economy was in shambles, unable to bear the brunt of the war that began in 1896. The fortunes of many prominent families dwindled but a lucky few – like the Cojuangcos – prospered from it.

By 1901, the Cojuangco landholdings, under the name of Ingkong Jose, Ysidra or Melecio, had extended to other towns in Tarlac like Gerona, Camiling, La Paz and Moncada as well as to the adjoining provinces of Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan. In less than five years after resettling in Tarlac, the Cojuangco family acquired almost 2,000 hectares of agricultural land along the railway in Paniqui, well up to Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan.

The family’s economic bonanza was indeed impressive, especially since it was realized at a time when agricultural production in Tarlac was in a dismal state. Rice fields then were covered by sand left by floods. Government reports during this period indicated that drought and locusts had destroyed many crops. But the fortune acquired by the Cojuangcos had puzzled many of their neighbors even then. They knew the family depended on the income from their rice milling and trading business for the money that they lent out. With the calamities that had plagued rice lands, however, the neighbors wondered, surely the Cojuangco money could not have all come from rice milling and trading alone.

It was all the fruit of hard work, frugality and good business sense, they were told. Still, this explanation did not stop stories from swirling around about the “real” source of the Cojuangcos’ now-fabled wealth. One account, written in 1987 by Hilarion Henares, the newspaper columnist who coined the moniker “Pacman” for Danding, cited a study reportedly made by Carlos Quirino, the former director of the National Library. Henares wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

General Antonio Luna, as chief of staff of the revolutionary army, had collected a sizeable sum from contributions with which to pay his soldiers. The person who collected for him was Tiburcio Hilario, Pampanga governor. Hilario’s granddaughter, Ambassador Rafaelita Hilario Soriano, relates that her grandfather kept the gold and silver in sacks, including gold plates, chalices, and other church treasures taken from Bacolor, San Fernando, and Guagua.

After losing an encounter at Sto. Tomas, Pampanga, Luna ordered Hilario to bring the valuables to Tarlac, where the revolutionary government planned to establish its capital. General Luna, so the story goes, then turned over the treasure to Ysidra Cojuangco, then an attractive 32-year-old woman, for safekeeping. Then Luna proceeded to Cabanatuan to meet with Aguinaldo, there to be assassinated by [Aguinaldo’s] troops.

Why did the general entrust Ysidra with the treasure? Rumors had it that she was his sweetheart and lover, and he entrusted her to keep the treasure till he returned…

Another account said that General Luna sired Ysidra’s son, who was also named Antonio but was claimed by Melecio and Tecla as their third son. The story goes that during the Philippine-American war, Luna had tried to control the Manila-Dagupan railway since this was a vital facility for communications and transportation, as it was during the earlier war against Spain. It was supposedly in one of Luna’s trips to the north that he met Ysidra, who lived very near the train station. And when the Filipino troops were retreating to the north during the war against the US, he may have renewed his ties with her.

But the Cojuangcos, especially the Jose branch, dismiss the stories as mere fabrication, “probably spread by the Marcoses,” they said, to discredit the family.

“These tales seem to have originated in the Seventies, when the Marcoses were in power, when under the martial law regime, Cojuangco businesses were being taken over by other powerful entities,” wrote Marisse Reyes McMurray.

McMurray quoted her aunt, Imelda Ongsiako Cojuangco, wife of Ramon Cojuangco who is the son of Antonio, as saying: “The first time I heard about the Antonio Luna story was from Mrs. Imelda Marcos when they were trying to remodel all the old houses in Vigan to get back to the old side or classic side. And they were trying to remodel all the houses that had supposedly belonged to their family. I was with her a couple of days and she began talking about Luna, about the amazing love story of Lola (grandmother) Ysidra. She said we had common relatives in Bulacan since I think it was supposed to be her mother who is supposed to have come from Malolos. She was trying to convince my Monching (nickname of Ramon) that his father was probably the son of Lola Ysidra and Luna. I just found the whole thing so weird because your Tito Monching was telling me a few years back that Lola Sidra used to talk to him about her Chinese boyfriend.” – Rappler.com

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