Businessman Danding Cojuangco dies at 85

By CNN Philippines Staff

San Miguel Corporation chairman and chief executive officer Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. died on Tuesday night due to a lingering illness, a week after celebrating his 85th birthday, the company confirmed.

Cojuangco had a strong presence and influence in Philippine business and politics. Aside from SMC, he was also the chairman of several publicly listed companies, among them Ginebra San Miguel Inc.; San Miguel Food and Beverage, Inc.; Petron Corporation; ECJ & Sons Agricultural Enterprises, Inc., and Northern Cement Corporation.

​SMC informed the Philippine Stock Exchange about Cojuangco’s passing on Wednesday morning. He served as the company’s chairman since July 7, 1998.

In a statement, the conglomerate cited their late chairman’s vision of malasakit which helped shape their corporate direction.

“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 SMC Board of Directors said, thanking their “Boss Danding.”

Cojuangco was the 15th richest man in the Philippines and was ranked 2,048th in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth of $1.1 billion (about ₱55 billion).

In politics, he first served as the governor of Tarlac, the provincial base of the family, from 1967 to 1969.

He further rose to national prominence during martial law, having been appointed as an adviser to then President Ferdinand Marcos. ​He was linked to the coco levy fund scam and was among the people tagged as allegedly behind the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. at the tarmac in 1983 – an accusation even Aquino’s youngest daughter Kris has denied.

Cojuangco became the chairman of San Miguel in 1984, but was removed from his position following the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986 and the rise of his estranged cousin Corazon Aquino as the country’s president. ​Cojuangco lived in exile in the United States after Marcos was ousted, only returning to Manila years later in the middle of Aquino’s coup-laden term.

Cojuangco attempted to make a political comeback in 1992 when he ran for president under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, a political party he founded. He placed third in the presidential race, trailing behind eventual winner Fidel Ramos and runner-up Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Malacañang officials have extended their condolences to the Cojuangco family through a series of statements. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque cited the late tycoon’s “immense contribution to the socioeconomic development of the Philippines” through SMC’s diversified operations in the food, beverage, energy, power, fuel, and infrastructure sectors.

“Mr. Cojuangco’s SMC has been a reliable partner of the government in mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 by providing support and assistance to frontliners and vulnerable sectors,” Roque added, citing generous donations from the conglomerate which reached over ₱13 billion.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also grieved Cojuangco’s passing: “Ninong Danding was a larger than life figure whose colorful life shaped the course of our history. His wisdom and business acumen will be sorely missed.”

Other key public figures offered their respects to the late Cojuangco, including allies from his political party.

Senator Grace Poe, who received support from Cojuangco and the NPC in her 2016 presidential bid, also lamented his death, saying he “always looked for ways to empower communities.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also acknowledged Cojuangco’s “philosophy to help the needy,” citing the contributions of his firm in local relief efforts.

Contribution to sports

Apart from his life in politics, Cojuangco became an ardent promoter of sports in the country during martial law.

He was appointed by Marcos as project director for basketball, earning the title as the first godfather of Philippine basketball.

As owner of Northern Cement Corporation, Cojuangco used the company to form the Northern Cement basketball team that served as the training pool for the national men’s basketball team from 1980 to 1986.

Among the Filipino basketball legends produced by the Northern Cement basketball program by Cojuangco are Ricardo Brown, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, and Jerry Codinera.

Up before his death, Cojuangco remained active in sports as he owns three teams in the Philippine Basketball Association which are the San Miguel Beermen, Magnolia Pambansang Manok, and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.

​The PBA also honored the late businessman and sports patron, remembering him for his “countless contribution” to the league and to Philippine sports.

Cojuangco was also the main benefactor of the De La Salle University men’s basketball team, which won two UAAP championships under his watch in the last decade. Former DLSU Green Archers coach Aldin Ayo also tweeted a tribute. 

Cojuangco left behind his wife Gretchen, along with his children Tina, Lisa, Charlie and Mark. Charlie is an incumbent congressman representing Tarlac’s 1st district, while Mark was former representative of Pangasinan’s 5th district.

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