Mendoza: Dinner with Danding in Sta. Monica

Al Mendoza

I HAD two unforgettable dinners with Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., the enigmatic patriarch of San Miguel Corp. who had passed on June 16 at age 85. One was in plush Sta. Monica, Los Angeles, California, and the other in rustic Pontevedra, Negros Occidental.

The first was in 1986, when Cojuangco, fondly called Danding by those dear to him, was in exile in the United States. As a known ally of the Marcos dictatorship, Danding also had to flee when Marcos escaped to Hawaii following the victory of the bloodless Edsa Revolt of 1986.

My association with Danding was anchored on his being the godfather of basketball. That position made him close to the sports media during the martial law years.

I had the chance to meet up with him in July 1986 when I covered the World Optimist Golf championship in San Diego, California, a city close to Los Angeles. It was Chit Pineda, a dear friend of Danding’s and who remains a bosom buddy of mine to this day, who arranged the dinner.

“He (Danding) is excited to see you,” said Chit, who was then based in San Francisco, the “City by the Bay” some five hours by car from Los Angeles.

Since the late Roger Flores, then of the Times Journal (now defunct), was with me in the golf coverage in San Diego, he was just too glad to see Danding, too.

“This is a scoop,” I remember Roger exclaiming. “Thanks, Al, for the opportunity.” Also in our delegation of three was Jake P. Ayson, then the executive director of the National Golf Association of the Philippines.

When we were finally at the dinner table, the first words Danding uttered were: “Are you guys interviewing me, too? If yes, you will be the first journalists to do so after I left our country in February.”

But it was basically a dinner-cum-conversation, exchanging hellos and reminiscing on things past.

By the way, our waiter that night? Who else but the late Ron Jacobs, the American coach that helped revolutionize coaching in the Philippines.

It’d be years later when I’d have dinner again with Danding, with his beauteous wife, Gretchen, as our chef. But that’s for another story.