Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco died last night, Tuesday, June 16, at an expensive private hospital in Quezon City due to, according to a news report, lung cancer. He was 85.
All news stories about him so far describe him as a business tycoon, a sportsman, a sports patron, a philanthropist, and political kingmaker. His death even merited a message from Malacañan Palace. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, Jr.,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
None of the announcements and reports has yet to call Cojuangco what he was accused of for most of his life, a crony of Ferdinand Marcos. In fact, Cojuangco was not just a crony but was said to be the biggest one. In an article in December 30, 1990, the Los Angeles Times described him as “second only to Marcos in the systematic looting of the Philippines.”
The sector who complains to this day that they were wronged by Cojuangco is one of the country’s poorest: coconut farmers.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said they cannot condole with the family of the deceased, as the Ph105-billion coco levy fund Cojuangco was accused of pocketing in the heydays of the Marcos dictatorship and plunder remain unreturned and unremitted to its true owners.
“Patay na si Danding Cojuangco Jr., hindi pa naibabalik sa mga magsasaka ng niyog ng pondo ng coco levy na dinambong ng mga promotor ng coco levy fund scam,” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos said in a statement hours after the announcement of Cojuangco’s death.
It was said that Cojuangco used the coco levy fund to acquire companies, land, banks and other businesses that made him not just one of the richest men in the Philippines but throughout the world.
Danding and Marcos
The book “Some Are Smarter Than Others” by former exile and national librarian Ricardo Manapat described Cojuangco as one of Marcos’ closest and most loyal cronies. They have in fact developed interlocking godfatherships of their sons and grandsons. Danding even named his eldest son Marcos Cojuangco.
Their business partnership started with rice importations that also involved Juan Ponce Enrile and Jose Aspiras, two other cronies. And when he faced the possibility of being summoned to testify in United States courts in connection with charges of monopolizing coconut trading, Marcos appointed him “Ambassador-at-Large” to prevent that from happening.
At the height of his power under the Marcos dictatorship, Manapat said Cojuangco controlled corporate assets worth $1.5 billion which at the time was 25% of the country’s gross national product. In an April 2, 1990 report, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cojuangco was into rice cartels, sugar, flour, groceries, cement and soft drinks aside from coconut, sugar, agri-business, banking and others.
Danding’s wealth enabled him to own vast land holdings in Central Luzon, Central Visayas and Palawan where he kept hundreds of high-powered firearms wielded by hundreds of guards who were reportedly trained by Israeli mercenaries. He also collected Ferraris and Rolls Royces and owned expensive race horses imported from all over the world, the book revealed.
The coco levy fund
The coco levy fund was the biggest taxation scheme in the country at the time of its imposition in 1971. It exacted taxes on coconut meat produced by farmers amounting to billions of pesos and allowied both Cojuangco and Juan Ponce Enrile to become major players in the global trade of coconut products.
The fund the levy created was supposed to be spent for support activities within the industry, collected from farmers as soon as they sold their products to traders. They were supposed to be issued receipts as proof of their ownership of the fund but majority of them never received the receipts. None of them benefitted from the fund and have in fact suffered because of it due to lowered incomes.
Manapat’s book said that at the height of the coco levy’s implementation, the coconut farmers only earned $19 a month on the average. This meant that they could only afford 10% of the minimum requirement for their family’s food. Years after Marcos had been deposed and the coco levy fund was ordered by the Supreme Court to be given back to its real owners, many beneficiaries have died still demanding to given back the money owed them.
Nearly a president
But Danding remained rich and powerful after his friend and benefactor was deposed. He never went to jail and kept control of San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and other big businesses. He was even a candidate for the presidency in the 1992 national elections.
The KMP revealed that in 1998, when his good friend Joseph Estrada was elected president, Cojuangco’s 4,661-hectare landholding in Negros Occidental spanning two cities and seven towns were exempted from actual land distribution through a joint agribusiness venture between the ECJ Corporation and 1,200 Certificate of Land Ownership Award holders.
Danding’s SMC is also the primary initiator of flexible labor policies in the country that promoted contractual labor and laid off tens of thousands of workers across SMC companies, the KMP said in its statement.
“Danding Cojuangco Jr. is the embodiment of the landlord-comprador-bourgeoisie ruling class who have enriched and empowered themselves through exploiting the Filipino masses, especially workers and farmers,” Ramos said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)