Sen. Serge Osmeña 3rd on Monday called for a congressional inquiry into reports that Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim has gained control of media outfits and utility companies in the Philippines.
He said an investigation would determine if Philippine laws, particularly the ban
on foreign ownership of local utility firms, had been violated when Salim gained ownership of several companies.
“Certainly, the committee on constitutional amendments should carry out the investigation,” Osmeña said when asked if there is a need for Congress to look into Salim’s acquisition and control of several locally-based companies, including the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).
The panel on constitutional amendments is headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
On Monday, The Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao wrote that Salim used the retirement fund of PLDT to build his media empire in the Philippines.
In his column, Tiglao said Salim and his top executive, Manuel Pangilinan, were able to acquire, through MediaQuest, media outfits like TV-5, Radyo 5 and Aksyon TV. MediaQuest also has shares in BusinessWorld, Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The Philippine Constitution allows a firm in the media industry only if it has 100 percent Filipino ownership.
“Salim and his boys found a loophole, though. A company’s trust fund for its employees was defined by the 1991 Foreign Investments Act as a ‘Philippine national’ if 60 percent of its benefits would go to Filipinos. PLDT’s Beneficial Trust Fund was, by that definition, a ‘Philippine national,’ which, therefore, could own media companies,” Tiglao said.
Through this scheme, Salim’s group was able to circumvent Article XVI, Section 11. of the Philippine Constitution, which states that “the ownership and management of mass media shall be limited to citizens of the Philippines, or to corporations, cooperatives or associations, wholly-owned and managed by such citizens.”
“Bobi [Tiglao] has been pretty accurate. I read the articles but whether he can have enough evidence to prove it in court is another thing,” Osmeña said.
The senator cited the Supreme Court’s decision in the PLDT case where the Court found that 64 percent was technically owned by a foreigner. The case remains pending.