MAGNATE Ramon Ang’s acquisition of the Prieto/Rufino clan’s 85 percent controlling shares in the Philippine Daily Inquirer will break Indonesian Anthoni Salim’s dominance of Philippine media, one of the most shameful features of our nation in recent times.
Salim* in 2014 bought (reportedly for P4 billion) from the Belmonte family 70 percent controlling shares in the Philippine Star, one of the three biggest broadsheets in the country, the other two being PDI and the Manila Bulletin. But he also retained his 15 percent shares of PDI that he had bought a decade ago, and rumors have even been circulating that he had been giving the newspaper a financial lifeline.
PDI and Star, as well as another Salim-controlled firm, BusinessWorld have the biggest reporting staffs in the country, and they even boast of winning so many investigative and business journalism awards.
Yet they have never ever reported the incontrovertible reality, and the colossal phenomenon of an Indonesian tycoon Salim being the country’s biggest public utility and media tycoon —in violation of the Constitution — who has transferred starting 2001 about $1 billion of his Philippine firms’ profits to his Bermuda-registered First Pacific Co. Ltd. in Hong Kong.
The Constitution can be violated, while the elite and government have chosen to look away, probably interpreting it as unavoidable ‘globalization’: That is the sad state of nationalism in this country.
Mainstream media have been misleading the nation by referring to Salim’s conglomerate as that of “Manuel V. Pangilinan”. Pangilinan however owns at most only 1 percent in any of these firms and is only Salim’s top executive in the Philippines. Pangilinan can be replaced anytime really by Salim.
Such is the power of media to keep even things that are very important to a country outside of public consciousness. Foreign firms simply believed local media. For instance, Singapore’s Straits Times in an article yesterday matter-of-factly reported that it was “businessman Manuel Pangilinan” who bought into Star. This is fake news: It was a Salim firm, Hastings Holdings, that did.
Pangilinan is a very highly-paid corporate executive, and not a businessman. His investments in PLDT and other Salim firms are mostly token, required in order to qualify him to the board. What he has invested are Salim’s money, and in many enterprises, borrowings from the Philippine capital markets.
These newspapers of course know who their bosses are. They in effect collaborated to keep from public consciousness the fact that the Indonesian tycoon has been riding roughshod over the Constitution’s nationalist provisions.
Things are fast changing though.
In the past 12 months, the Prieto/Rufino clan faced a financial quagmire in two fronts. The Duterte government pressed for its surrender of the prime 2.3-hectare Mile Long property that it had refused to give up even after its lease expired in 2002.
But not only that: the government claimed the clan owed unpaid rentals on the property since 2002 of P1.8 billion. The Prieto/Rufinos’ other big problem is the alleged tax liabilities of its firm that operates the Dunkin’ Donuts chain, amounting to P1.5 billion, that the Duterte administration has been pressing the BIR to collect. Initially stonewalled by compromised BIR bureaucrats, the final prosecution of the case reportedly had been accelerated only this month.
Remarkably for an inefficient, and graft-prone bureaucracy, things moved fast to comply with Duterte’s orders.
I myself knew about it only this month, but in January 26 this year, the Court of Appeals’ 5th Division had issued an order penned by Justice Jose Reyes clearing the legal obstacles to government’s suit on the Mile Long case, which had been there for years. Last week, the court issued its final writ execution, which cannot be appealed anymore.
I suspect this is what PDI president Sandy Prieto was really referring to when she said in a written message to the newspaper’s staff yesterday: “Things have transpired faster than we had anticipated.”
The Prieto/Rufino family therefore became extremely vulnerable to a takeover, and Salim, through his 15 percent stake in the firm obviously already had his foot inside the door. His smart lawyers, who have been so astute as to invent schemes to evade the Constitution, could have thought of some contrivance for him to secretly control PDI.
Ang apparently has clinched the deal with the Prieto/Rufino clan, or else it wouldn’t have been announced the other day.
It is not known whether Salim will sell his remaining 15 percent holdings in PDI. But he will undoubtedly become a minority stockholder, and Ang with his 85 percent of the media group, will have indisputable control.
He will obviously be appointing not only the company’s board and officers, but more importantly its editors who won’t have any qualms, or financial baggage, about publishing the truth about Salim and his conglomerate in the Philippines.
Salim’s stakes in media have been through PLDT, in which his intermediary firms have the controlling 26 percent bloc. PLDT then used the P10 billion of funds of its employees’ Beneficial Trust Fund–which the Salim-appointed management controls–to set up its media flagship firm MediaQuest. (Refer to chart above.)
PLDT’s subsidiary ePLDT also put in P12.5 billion into MediaQuest for its purchase of Philippine Star and BusinessWorld and for setting up Cignal TV. These were in the form of Philippine Depositary Receipts, in order to skirt the Constitution’s total ban on any foreign participation in a media firm.
MediaQuest’s subsidiary Hastings Holdings is Salim’s umbrella group for his print media companies. Under MediaQuest are over two dozen broadcast media outfits, the biggest of which is TV5 and which includes regional TV and radio stations all over the country.
The country’s biggest satellite-to-home provider, CIgnal TV, is also a subsidiary of MediaQuest. MediaQuest also owns Bloomberg TV Philippines, while Ang owns its competitor CNN Philippines. Details in Chapter 8 (“Salim’s media empire: Ultimate transgression of PH sovereignty) in my book Colossal Deception: How Foreign Firms Control Our Telecoms Sector.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao