Boss Danding

 

The above is the title of an unauthorized biography of Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. by Earl G. Parreno (First Quarter Storm Foundation, Philippines, 2003).  Mr. Cojuango’s nickname is Danding and those who work for him call him “Boss”---a title he enjoys and deserves as he is one of the most successful businessmen in the history of the Philippines.

 

Anyone who objectively reviews his accomplishments must be duly impressed as he is a multitalented individual.  Born in 1935 he comes from a successful business and landowning family.  His father married Josephine Murphy, an Irish Canadian.  His grandfather has Chinese and Philippino heritages.  Thus, Boss Danding is more Irish than he is anything else in terms of his bloodlines; however, more than anything else he is a crafty Philippino businessman/politician.  In the Philippines if you are going to be successful you are wise to combine these two forces and Danding has done so very consistently to his great benefit.

 

Danding’s story is intertwined with the long powerful and vicious murdering dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.  During the Marcos era Danding was his #1 and most effective looter of the resources of the nation.  Numerous lawsuits are still pending before the courts of the Philippines to try to get back some of the resources stolen by Danding.  Many of these resources are sequestered by the government so that Danding is trying to regain control of them.

 

When the Marcos government fell when the Reagan government was no longer willing to support his dictatorship and he fled to exile in the United States, Danding was one of those key people in 1986 that fled with him.  (Reagan very reluctantly gave up on his good friend Marcos when it was made clear that unless Marcos fled the country with American help the country was likely to fall apart and a blood bath could result as civil war took over.  One of the reasons Reagan was reluctant is that Marcos had illegally given $10 million to help Reagan win the Presidency---the definitive “good” friend.  But another reason was that Reagan and American government policy in general consistently has supported dictatorships as long as they are supportive of the United States and our political/business interests worldwide.)  Danding eventually moved to Australia and then returned to the Philippines in 1989 and immediately started regaining control both of his business and political resources. 

 

One of the most successful ventures that he completed under Marcos was how he gained control of the San Miguel Corporation, considered by many to be the #1 corporation in the Philippines.  He was able to do this by taking taxes levied against small coconut farmers and buying up the shares of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC).  Thus, the courts are trying to get this asset back into the hands of its rightful owners, the small farmers, but Danding is fighting them every inch of the way with his lawyers stalling the process in the courts year after year with endless motions.  Clearly it is his hope that over time he will win when he has built up enough political power to block any decision by the courts.

 

Meanwhile, he was even able to get himself appointed as the head of SMC once again.  This is no small matter as he then is able to give beer and food distributorships out to those who pledge support for his political interests.  It is ironic that the man who stole this company is allowed to continue using it in this way, however, that is the way the world works.  Sometimes it is more obvious in the Philippines, but it works that way around the world as politics is influenced and politicians are bought and sold by business interests.

 

The Danding story is also about family.  His grandfather had five children and over time they ended up feuding amongst themselves and supporting different political parties and even running against one another.  The Jose Cojuangco, Sr. branch includes Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco who married “Ninoy” Aquino.  The Manila International Airport is named after Ninoy Aquino as he was assassinated by Marcos when he tried to re-enter the country from exile in the United States.  His wife then was persuaded to take up the banner and she ran against Marcos and when he fled Cory Cojuangco Aquino became President of the Philippines. 

 

It was President Aquino that allowed her cousin Danding to return to the Philippines even though she suspected that he might have been aware of or involved in the assassination of her husband.  Most cronies of vicious dictators are imprisoned, sometimes lined up and shot.  Instead, Danding was allowed to return and continue to influence the country that he played a key role in looting without ever having to face criminal changers, without ever being arrested, without ever really having to pay for what he had done under the Marcos dictatorship.

 

Once he was able to gain enough political influence, he supported the Presidential aspirations of a B-movie actor Joseph Estrada  (remind you of Reagan?) who won the Presidency and who then within days appointed Boss Danding to head up the San Miguel Corporation.  (More recently President Estrada was driven out of office and arrested due to corruption.  His Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over as President and Danding simply continues as head of SMC with her support as of January 1, 2004 as my review is being written.

 

Boss Danding is a very skilled survivalist who comes from a long line of survivalists.  His family made money during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II and has always focused on using politics as a way of making money and never as a way of serving the people.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the voters in the Philippines are not sophisticated about who they are voting for and support personalities more than policies of the politicians running for office.  (Hey, I didn’t say that this was unique---just a few months ago movie star Arnold Schwartzenneger became the Governor of California!)  If they had thought carefully, they would have long ago recognized that Boss Danding, Ninoy Acquino, Cory Acquino and the vast majority of politicians in the Philippines (as in America) are more influenced by money than by service to their country. 

 

“Some people perceive Danding as the epitome of greed, a man whose hunger for wealth and power is insatiable, just like his patron Marcos.  Ricardo Manapat would say that he ‘appears to have an even more ominously darker side than being an ordinary grafter and favored Marcos crony.’  Danding is supposedly ‘ruthless.’  Some believe him to be ‘capable of taking lives.’ Manapat quoted former US ambassador to Manila, Stephen Bosworth, as saying, ‘There’s no way Danding could lead within a pluralistic system that held him accountable…He operates best in the netherworld.’

 

“Yet, to other people, he is known to be a generous and compassionate man, a fair employer, and a humble and loyal person who values honesty and sincerity above all” (p. 79).

 

“No doubt, Danding is a complex man.  But however one sees him, the reality is that during martial law, he built a business empire so huge that it gave him political as well as economic clout to forge ahead of his rivals” (p. 81).  Remember, that under the martial law dictatorship of Marcos, Danding was a very influential advisor to the dictator.  The fact that he has never had to pay for this, that he continues to profit from it, amazes anyone who is concerned about justice.  However, is that fact any more obscene than the equally clear fact that Marcos and Danding looted the Philippines with American support?  When it was clear that Marcos was oppressing the people and was a murdering dictator, President Reagan sent Vice President George Bush to the Philippines and Bush toasted the dictator saying: “We love your adherence to democracy” (p. 150).

 

At the height of his power under Marcos, Danding owned 244 companies involved in every type of business imaginable.  He had 150 motor vehicles include Ferraris, Porsches, Mercedes Benzes, and Rolls Royces.  He also owned 8 airplanes and four helicopters.  “He loved the good life, those who knew him well said, but he shunned people who bragged about their love for arts and culture.  He hated discussion about ‘the true, the good and the beautiful,’…he preferred to be surrounded by fighting cocks, vintage cars, racehorses, big bikes and guns” (pp. 171-2).

 

Spiritual Dimension

 

The most important reason to study Danding is the lessons we can gain from so doing.  We learn about political corruption and how business corrupts politicians in order to gain influence and grow their businesses.  We can see how voters continue to elect corrupted and corruptible individuals into office rather than those who stand for principles of democracy and social and economic justice.  We see that this is a worldwide problem, that it is not something that Danding invented, only something he helped perfect in the Philippines.

 

But that is not the really important lesson for me.  The really important thing we learn from this study of Boss Danding is how a person can decide that what they can get for themselves in this life outweighs their fear of the afterlife.  It is easy to delude yourself into thinking that you are really one of the good guys---I think Danding believes that he is really one of the people that has helped the economy of the Philippines for the betterment of all---even the poor that he and his family has consistently looted for generations.  (One

of the key greedy ways that his ancestors amassed their wealth is by cheating small farmers out of their land.)  He would argue that SMC is a stronger organization thanks to his leadership over the years---and he may well be right in so saying.  And, he would argue further that this benefits all Philippinos---and he may well be right in so saying.  But, he is saying that the ends justify the means.

 

Every great spiritual concept loudly proclaims “NO”---you cannot justify ends by evil means.  Danding is evil.  Evil persons can always find ends to justify how they have injured, killed, maimed, tortured, stolen from and cheated others less powerful in order to gain their ends.

 

All significant spiritual belief systems also say that you pay dearly for such behavior in the afterlife.  Danding is gambling that he will not have to pay up then just as he is doing everything to avoid paying up in this life for his behavior.

 

The most important decision any human being makes in their life is the choice they make about God and what happens when they die.  Danding has decided that he doesn’t believe in the teachings of God.  Machiavelli is his god.  Greed is his goddess.  Power in life is what he craves.  He has sold his soul.

 

Are you willing to sell yours?  Are you really viewing life in terms of what God expects of you or in terms of how much money you can make?  Are you willing to justify means by some end you have selected?  Don’t deny that you are doing any of these things until you carefully examine your motivations.  Danding would deny that he is doing any of these things, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he is.  The only way you can ultimately determine if you are or are not selling out is if you are able to examine your behavior and confirm that you are acting day by day as God would want you to act.  Can you say that?

 

If not, how might you change your life so that you can say it?  How can you prioritize justice and kindness and caring for others over your baser instincts?  Don’t just think generally about this, be specific.  Exactly what can you do to become a better person, a person more directed by spiritual forces and day by day less influenced by petty self-interests?

 

Remember, it was the students and faculty who in 1971 protested at the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus, it was the 400,000 regular citizens who took to the streets  in 1986 and stood off Marcos’ troops and thus won a bloodless coup that were the really great people.  It was neither Cory Aquino nor Danding that were great.