MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan, who got anti-monopoly flak when he bought Digitel last year, is reportedly on the prowl for bigger acquisitions.
While he's bidding for tollways and buying hospitals, the two reported targets that have generated the most buzz are Philippine Airlines and GMA Network.
Pangilinan says PAL may have its problems -- it lost $33 million from April to December last year and is subject to the same problems all airlines face. But he's interested because of its brand.
"Yeah, I've asked myself that question a lot of times. I can see where PAL does need a bit of help. I guess for the sake of the country, it's been a huge brand name internationally because when you do step in, when you're living abroad and when you step into a PAL plane, the Filipino experience is there already. I think that's something that our countrymen misses quite a bit. Sayang, ang feeling ko lang," he said in an interview with ANC.
The speculation about GMA has fueled a 40% jump in its stock this year.
Pangilinan declined to elaborate much, citing disclosure rules that govern public companies, but he was clear he wished he already owned it.
"2001, if I recall correctly was P14 billion. It's just that Home Cable came ahead of GMA-7 by a few months. In 2001 and 2002, PLDT was not in good shape. If GMA came in first, I think we would have chosen GMA. But that's fate," he said.
Pangilinan said there have been preliminary talks and GMA has said it's flattered by his interest, though he has offered no price.
When asked how does one have talks with no price, Pangilinan gave a smile: "Yes, that's the real genius I think... I think both are public companies, so you must appreciate that it's rather difficult to comment."
If he is interested, Pangilinan needs to move fast before Congress passes an anti-monopoly law that got a boost from his purchase of Digitel last year.
Some government officials have privately expressed concern about Pangilinan and San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang, controlling much of the country's infrastructure and economy.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, President Aquino's anti-monopoly point person, declined to comment on Pangilinan potentially controlling both TV-5 and GMA Network, saying it was still speculative.
"We will have to work with the sectoral regulators concerned on the issue of 'controlling too much.' We need to advocate and build a culture of competition in the country to ensure consumers and end-users are benefited. Businesses big and small will also benefit in the long run," de Lima said.
In general, she said the government still needs to figure out when an industry player is too big, while advocating competition to serve consumers.
In infrastructure, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson said it bids out projects, which has brought in the Ayala Group, via the Daang Hari project.
"We will conduct transparent process for our projects. In fact Daang Hari brought in Ayala Corp. as a new player in tollroads... Metro Pacific and San Miguel are more aggressive and bullish specially on infra projects and they see long term investment potentials," said Singson.
They - and Pangilinan and Ang's rivals - may take comfort in Pangilinan saying he may not have the energy to take on PAL.
"I don't know, I don't know. I have businesses to run and I'm not sure I have the stamina or age to tackle a business as big as PAL," he said.
He didn't say the same about GMA.
The interview with PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan will be aired on ANC Business Nightly on March 8 (Thursday) at 9 p.m.
ABS-CBNnews.com and ANC are both owned by ABS-CBN, which competes with TV-5 and GMA Network.