MANILA - The Philippines wants to auction its stake in state-controlled United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) this year, the country's finance minister said on Tuesday, commenting on a plan that has attracted some of the country's biggest lenders.
President Benigno Aquino signed an executive order last week paving the way for the government to unload its controlling stake in UCPB, held by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp (PDIC).
"Clearly, the process will have to be a bidding," Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima told reporters. "Hopefully this year we can do it."
The government owns 73 percent of UCPB through PDIC, which rescued the bank with a P20 billion ($448 million) loan in 2003.
It includes a 10 percent stake seized by the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, Benigno's mother, after the ousting of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a popular revolt in 1986.
Ownership of the 10 percent stake, which had been held by Eduardo Cojuangco, a close ally of Marcos, was only settled in 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled it had to be returned to the government for the benefit of coconut farmers.
The government's stake was valued at P14 billion ($313 million) in 2013, but that would have to be updated by the state's financial adviser, Purisima said.
Robinsons Bank Corp, the unlisted banking arm of conglomerate JG Summit Holdings Inc, is joining the long list of companies interested in the auction.
"We are looking at UCPB if it goes into the market," Robinsons Bank President Elfren Antonio Sarte told Reuters.
The country's largest lender, BDO Unibank Inc, Philippine National Bank, China Banking Corp and East West Banking Corp have all shown interest in the stake, based on filings and media reports.
Acquiring UCPB's more than 200 branches would accelerate the expansion of Robinsons Bank, which has 93 branches, Sarte said.
"We have the capability to purchase it," he added.
UCPB is the 12th-largest lender in the Southeast Asian country, with assets worth nearly P250 billion pesos, based on central bank data.