MANILA – Tycoon Ramon Ang is buying a controlling stake in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the latest in a string of acquisitions by the vintage car aficionado who heads one of the country’s largest conglomerates.
San Miguel, with Ang as president, has expanded its century-old food and beverage business, venturing into infrastructure, energy and media. Most recently, the country’s 16th richest man, according to Forbes Magazine, has his eyes set on the Philippines’ BMW dealership.
It is from a shared love of cars and other things that Ang built his friendship with San Miguel chairman Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco, one of the country’s most prominent political and business leaders. Cojuangco played a key role in the country's coconut industry during the Marcos administration, and was accused of being a "Marcos crony."
“I think this is the first step towards that dream of going into media. He was not successful with GMA-7, and maybe this is the first step towards it,” Regina Capital president Marita Limlingan told ANC.
A deal to acquire 30 percent of GMA Network television fell through in 2015, despite a P1 billion down payment. The dispute was eventually settled.
Majority control of the Inquirer rivals the moves of tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan in media, who has interests in The Philippine Star and BusinessWorld. It was not clear what will happen to Pangilinan’s 10-percent stake in the Inquirer.
"There’s so many controversies involved already and maybe the price was right so it was time for them to leave media and give it to another holder," Regina Capital's Limlingan said, referring to the planned sale by the Prietos.
Ang is a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has criticized the current owners of the Inquirer, the Prieto family, for allegedly not paying taxes on an P8-million government property in Makati City leased to the Prietos during the Marcos years.
At a Christmas party in Malacanang last year, Duterte described Ang as a “fast friend” with “disarming humility.”
Ang pledged P1 billion to help build rehabilitation centers as Duterte waged war on illegal drug rings.
He also submitted an unsolicited proposal for a $2-billion spillway project that will help direct water from Laguna De Bay to Manila Bay and ease flooding in Metro Manila.
On the sidelines of Duterte’s trip to Singapore last December, Ang helped encourage businessmen there to invest in the Philippines.
One of his biggest bets on Duterte's infrastructure overhaul is the recent initial public offering of Eagle Cement.
Not all of his acquisitions, however, were as successful as Ang had hoped.
In September 2014, Ang sold back management control of Philippine Airlines (PAL) to taipan Lucio Tan, as the flag carrier struggled to make profits while feeling the tought competition from budget carriers.
The PAL deal, reportedly worth $1 billion, ended San Miguel's 2-year foray into aviation.
Last year, San Miguel sold its telecommunications assets to PLDT Inc. and Globe Telecom for P70 billion, ending hopes for a third player in the industry.
Talks for a joint venture between San Miguel and Australia's Telstra fell through earlier in the year. -- Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News