Rivals to allies: Ramon Ang to invest in MVP-led Metro Pacific
MANILA -Billionaire Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) will acquire an equity stake in Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) at the invitation of tycoon Manuel Pangilinan—a move that will see the once fierce rivals become close business allies.
The Inquirer learned from several sources that Ang, who heads the country’s biggest conglomerate, would join the board of MPIC as part of his buy-in of a yet-undisclosed minority stake in the group, which also includes the Ty family’s GT Capital Holdings and one of Indonesia’s wealthiest men, billionaire Anthoni Salim.
According to a ranking Metro Pacific source, the entry of the SMC president and chief executive into MPIC was a prelude to the eventual merger of the toll road businesses of both conglomerates—SMC Tollways and Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., respectively—into one super entity.
“Assuming that doesn’t run into antitrust issues, that deal could potentially be a huge initial public offering,” the official said.
Another industry source explained, however, that any such merger was not expected to run into problems with the Philippine Competition Commission, since both tollway units operate distinct projects that serve different routes and do not compete with each other in terms of price, which is also being tightly regulated by the government.
Once completed, Ang’s entry into the recently delisted and privatized MPIC marks a 180-degree turn in his relationship with Pangilinan.
Both billionaires were once fierce business rivals who aggressively competed against each other in several industries, the most notable of which was the 2007 fight for control of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country’s largest electricity distributor and retailer, which Pangilinan narrowly won with the help of the Lopez family’s swing vote.
Ang and Pangilinan were also frequent rivals during biddings for government-initiated public-private partnership deals such as toll highways and other infrastructure projects.
But a thaw in the often frosty rivalry began in 2016 when Ang sold SMC’s highly prized 700 megahertz spectrum network that is useful for 5G telecommunications to Pangilinan-controlled PLDT and Ayala Corp.’s Globe Telecom Inc. for $1.5 billion.
Last year, Ang’s San Miguel Global Power Holdings and Pangilinan’s Meralco found themselves on the same side in petitioning the government regulator to allow them to raise electricity rates on fixed-price power supply deals, citing the unforeseen increases in fuel costs brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The initial petition was rejected, but subsequent appeals to the courts succeeded.
Ang also defended Pangilinan vigorously after it was revealed that PLDT was involved in a P48-billion “overrun” wherein the telecommunications giant failed to keep tabs of capital expenditures it had contracted from suppliers over a four-year period, leading to several high ranking officers being fired.
Ang said he did not believe that fraud was involved, but only wrong management calls in choosing, in the rapidly evolving industry, which technology to invest in.
Ties in basketball
Most recently, Ang and Pangilinan—whose basketball teams are fierce rivals in the local professional league—also collaborated closely in helping the national men’s basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, win the gold medal in the recent Asian Games held in Hangzhou, China.
Following Gilas’ lackluster showing in the Fiba Basketball World Cup 2023 cohosted by the Philippines, the coaching of the team was turned over to the San Miguel group.
After the latter’s Asian Games win, Ang praised Pangilinan profusely for his “visionary leadership” of the country’s basketball program.
Speaking about the new alliance that has turned Ang and Pangilinan from “frenemies” to friends, one fellow billionaire said: “Not only in politics, but business makes strange bedfellows, too.” INQ