Of kings and kingmakers
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - October 19, 2020 - 12:00am

There are kings and there are kingmakers in this nation of 107 million. But could it be possible that every kingmaker also wants to be king? Is this the reason that, once upon a time, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., the late chairman of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) and founder of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, ran for president?

Cojuangco, or ECJ as he is known, lost the 1992 presidential elections, but his influence in Philippine politics would remain strong  and, until his death last June, he remained one of the country’s wealthiest tycoons.

Is tycoon Ramon “RSA” Ang, president and COO of San Miguel, following the same path of his friend, father figure and mentor, ECJ? Is he going to run for president, too?

Kibitzers in the business grapevine think so and some are hoping he would. Only RSA knows for sure, but in a recent chat with reporters, he dismissed such talks.

He will have to go after every crook in the country if, hypothetically, he becomes the king of this republic. And if he does that, there might be nobody left, he jested.

#AngPanguloNatin

No amount of prodding would convince him to consider running for the highest position of the land, at least during our chat, not even the hashtag we coined for him in jest — #ANGPanguloNatin.

So why then is RSA pouring in huge amounts of money — his and SMC’s — to implement numerous projects that would help the country overcome COVID-19?

RSA’s answer is simple — he loves our country. While this sounds like some politician’s words, I believe him. He once called me one early morning not to talk about SMC, but to encourage me to keep writing about important issues so the public would know. “For the sake of your children and your future grandchildren, Iris.”

Pass your papers

The pandemic and the time he spent in isolation in the early months of quarantine, RSA says, gave him a wake-up call, allowing him to ponder on what else he could do for his country.

This extraordinary crisis, indeed, has forced everyone to think about what he or she has done, perhaps raising the existential question – what does one’s life really mean?

“Nobody is exempted. When it’s your time to pass your papers, you just have to pass your papers.  So ask yourself – what have you done for others? For this country?” RSA says.

Under Ang’s leadership, SMC has emerged as a major private-sector partner in tackling the pandemic.

With its considerable resources, and with the help of employees, volunteers, and its partner non-profit organizations and charitable institutions, SMC initiated numerous projects to help the country better cope with the impact of COVID-19.

Its total COVID-19 response has reached a whopping P13.187 billion. This includes a food donation drive, massive donations of disinfectant alcohol from its reconfigured liquor plants, and the provision of life-saving medical equipment and supplies such as RT-PCR machines and test kits which have raised the Philippines’ overall testing capacity.

RSA stresses, “I’m not doing this to impress anyone.”

Why not go into politics then?

“I will pray for our country, I will do everything short of getting into politics,” Ang says.

There’s a lot of time between now and the 2022 elections, and we still don’t know who will be in the roster of presidential candidates. But I’m sure tycoons like RSA will support candidates they believe will be good for the country and for them as well.

What’s certain for now is that the intersection between politics and business in this republic will continue to be busy, even busier than Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing during rush hour.

Some businessmen may want to be kings themselves – many have run for public office in the past, including real estate tycoon Manuel Villar Jr. – while others will choose to just be kingmakers.

But in the Philippines, it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other. And when tycoons stay in the shadows just as kingmakers, their kingdoms expand and endure just the same.

ECJ’s legacy

Speaking of kingmakers, Danding Cojuangco continues to be remembered by residents of Tarlac where he served as governor from 1967 to 1969.

In fact, the provincial government had proposed last June 19, that ECJ’s birthday, June 10th of every year be celebrated as “Danding Day,” a special non-working holiday in the entire province of Tarlac.

Tarlac-based journalist Ver Buan recalls one of his last interactions with ECJ during an oath-taking of local officers.

“I was lucky enough to mingle with them and was given the opportunity to have a non-exclusive two-hour friendly chat with Boss Danding... We talked about random topics about past events and some personal stories of his life... I told him, ‘Sir, you are a great man, a great Tarlaqueño,’” Buan tells me.

Buan also shared with me his book, The Tarlac Book, where he describes Danding as “a tycoon with a big heart, a true visionary, a modern-day hero, and a mark of a genuine Tarlaqueño,” mostly because of the tycoon’s philanthropic work in the province.

ECJ’s name will always be associated with the P75 billion in coco levy funds, which farmers continue to await.  But for some Tarlaqueños, he is simply ECJ, their folk-hero.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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