NO two people could arguably have been more different.
Despite his death in April 2007, Kurt Vonnegut remains a celebrated American author. For his part, Eduardo “Danding” M. Cojuangco Jr., who will be 77 on June 10, is still trying—vainly—to live down his reputation as a crony of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. [See: Vonnegut, Cojuangco]
Besides being named after their fathers (Vonnegut would drop the Jr. suffix later), both have lived in the United States and have travelled the world.
But Vonnegut and Cojuangco still share one thing in common, based on publicly-available records, a special report, and a novel written by Vonnegut himself.
In Sirens of Titan, published in 1959, Noel Constant, the father of the novel’s protagonist Malachi, got rich through an “investment program” that was “simplicity itself.” [See: Sirens of Titan]
Some twenty years or so after the novel’s publication, Cojuangco, with the assistance of some lawyers from the ACCRA law firm, undertook a variation of Noel Constant’s strategy. [See: ACCRA]
Through Presidential Decree 1468, which Marcos issued, Cojuangco was able to establish a Coconut Industry Investment Fund (CIIF), bankrolled by the collection of a levy from coconut farmers, under the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB). [See: UCPB]
The same degree gave the bank the exclusive right to administer the coconut levy.
At that time, Cojuangco managed and owned a stake in the bank, which was bought—not surprisingly—using funds from the coconut levy.
These funds were collected to supposedly subsidize the sale of coconut-based products—including cooking oil and laundry soap—to protect the sector and consumers from “escalating world market prices for fats and oils,” a monograph written by Joey Faustino and published by the Coconut Reform Industry Movement Inc. (COIR) said. [See: COIR]
In 1983, a few months before ex-Senator and opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the airport now bearing his name, the CIIF created 14 holding companies set up by ACCRA lawyers. [See: Benigno Aquino Jr.]
Interestingly enough, the names of some of these holding companies bear the same initials of the lawyers who allegedly created them, according to a special report by Francisco Chavez, former Solicitor General.
In the middle of that same year, these same fourteen companies acquired 27 percent of stock in San Miguel Corp., then and now one of the largest companies in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. [See: SMC]
Using the same funds collected from coconut farmers, the CIIF companies bought 33.1 million San Miguel stocks for P50 apiece, a transaction valued at P1.65 billion.
In 1986, after Marcos, his family, and cronies were ousted from power, a Commission on Audit (COA) report said that total coconut levy collections have reached nearly P10 billion.
As of 2003, the worth of total coconut levy assets—including the so-called CIIF block in San Miguel, oil mills, among others—is worth P100 billion, COIR’s Faustino says in the same monograph. (How much is P100 billion? It’s the amount the government allotted and spent in 2010 to stimulate the economy.) [See: Economic stimulus]
However, despite serveral Supreme Court rulings which assert that the shares in San Miguel are public funds and are owned by the coconut farmers, these have yet to benefit them, nearly forty years after the levy was collected.
The situation prompts us to paraphrase Vonnegut’s Noel Constant in the same novel.
So it goes indeed. [See also: Going loco over the coco levy]