The day I met Danding Cojuangco up close

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
The day I met Danding Cojuangco up close
The late Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr.

When San Miguel Corp. (SMC) chairman and CEO Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. passed away last June 16 at the age of 85, his passing reverberated not only in business circles but all throughout the plains and valleys of this archipelago. After all, he grew one of the country’s leading breweries into the largest food and beverage corporation in the Philippines, and reportedly, in Southeast Asia. He was also known as a “godfather” of basketball and a kingmaker.

The one and only time I met Danding Cojuangco up close was in early 2003, for a photo shoot for the cover of PeopleAsia magazine. Headed by our boss Babe Romualdez, now Ambassador to the US, our team paid a call on the business titan in his SMC office.

We went through security checks and the polite inquiries of several receptionists before coming face to face with Danding, one of Asia’s richest men, and certainly one of the Philippines’ most powerful. With him was Ramon Ang, SMC’s COO.

I looked through my notes of the meeting, which said that Cojuangco’s eyes, “smiled.”

The tables in his office abound with chocolates — Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, M&M’s! I remember thinking, “Surely, a man with a sweet tooth can’t be all that fearsome, despite reports about his toughness!”

Soft-spoken, Danding Cojuangco looked at you in the eye when he talked. He would get up from the table to get himself a glass of water from a nearby Wilkins dispenser instead of summoning a waiter or butler. He did not lace his sentences with bluster, even when he talked about history-altering events in his life and in the life of this country. Even in his dark Brioni suit, his demeanor was casual, relaxed, not forbidding.

There was serious talk about another Danding Cojuangco presidential bid (he lost to Fidel Ramos in the 1992 polls). Like his inscrutable Chinese forebears (the original Cojuangco was a carpenter from Fujian, he said), Danding, according to my notes, kept his cards close to his vest. The one hint that he may throw his hat into the ring was his oft-repeated mantra: I love this country.

“I put everything I have in this country. This country is like your mother. She’s the only one you can have. You cannot change your mother,” he said.

“So,” I asked him, “will love of country somehow make you change your mind about running for President again?”

“That will be the only reason, if at all.”

He told us coming home from exile in 1989 was pure joy. He was in the same plane as deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos when the latter fled to Hawaii on Feb. 25, 1986. (He was a first cousin of the late President Cory Aquino and a buddy of her late husband, former Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., but somewhere along the way, there was a chasm between their political alliances. The Aquino children, as far as I know, were in more than good terms with their “Uncle Danding.”)

“When we brought President Marcos to the States, I said, ‘Siguro, in two weeks, things would settle down and we could go back to Manila’,” he recalled. “But after a few days, they took our passports and I thought, ‘Looks like this is going to be a long stay’.”

Danding, who was orphaned of his father early in life, said his years in exile represented one of the lowest, loneliest moments of his life.

“I felt like parang I was all alone… When we left the country, all I had was P10,000 in my pocket, the shirt on my back and a pair of khaki pants.”

Danding braved the odds upon his return. “Wala namang nagbago sa buhay ko since I came back. But I have forgiven those who were once not fair to me. Nakaraan na ‘yun, eh. This country has got to be united. By ‘united,’ I mean, we have to forgive and forget. If we as Filipinos are unable to accomplish this, if we do not look to the future, we cannot move forward. We have to say it and mean it. Just saying it means nothing.”

And that’s how I like to remember of Danding Cojuangco — a soft-spoken man with smiling eyes who walked his talk.

Capt. Ri, ‘Men Who Matter’ land in PeopleAsia

PeopleAsia lands a coup with Korean superstar Hyun Bin of Crash Landing on You fame on its cover, and presents its highly anticipated annual roster of “Men Who Matter.”

Now on its second print run due to popular demand, PeopleAsia’s latest issue features not just “Capt. Ri,” but also captains of industry and other realms who are on the “Men Who Matter” list.

It is Hyun Bin’s first cover on a glossy magazine in the Philippines. Produced in cooperation with Smart Communications, the cover story treats readers to rare photos of the actor, and takes them behind the scenes of the Korean superstar’s much-talked about Giga Life campaign for the country’s fastest mobile data provider.

Also being recognized as a special awardee is the MVP Group, led by its chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan. The MVP Group, through its companies such as Metro Pacific Investments Corp., PLDT-Smart, Philex Mining and Meralco, among others, has mobilized and distributed almost P200-million worth of support, early in the fight against COVID-19. “We have to be here for the long haul. This is not just because we are in front of the camera. Our help should be for the long term, also,” said MVP, whose companies are estimated to have advanced more than P10 billion in taxes to help aid the government in its time of need.

This year’s list of “Men Who Matter” awardees include San Miguel Corp. president and COO Ramon S. Ang; Mega Global CEO William Tiu Lim, the man behind the country’s leading sardines brand; SM Supermalls president Steven Tan; St. Luke’s president and CEO Dr. Arturo dela Peña; former actor and model Richard Gomez, who has showed his leadership chops as mayor of Ormoc City, which registered zero COVID-19 cases until recently; Accenture country managing director Lito Tayag; broadcast journalist Alvin Elchico; Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the government’s COVID-19 response and president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA); Kawit, Cavite Mayor Angelo Emilio Aguinaldo, who donated his salary and sold his car to help his municipality raise more funds for its constituents; fashion designer and humanitarian Michael Leyva; solar energy pioneer James Buskowitz; furniture entrepreneur Eric Po; and rising businessman and Habitat for Humanity volunteer Brian Poe Llamanzares.

(PeopleAsia’s June-July 2020 issue featuring Hyun Bin and “Men Who Matter” 2020 awardees is now available on PeopleAsia’s virtual store in Lazada, and in select newsstands such as CV Landmark, Impulse at the Makati Medical Center, Shell Red Fields Macapagal Ave., Shell Edsa Heritage, and Saddle Brown-Pepper Jack at the Manila Polo Club. To order your copies, please call or text 0920-7738059 or 0922-8776556 or call 8892-1854. You may also message Stargate PeopleAsia via Facebook Messenger and on Instagram @PeopleAsia.)

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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