Duterte calls MVP 'puppet' of foreign-based Salim Group — report

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte reportedly called Filipino business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan a "puppet" of the foreign-based Salim Group.

MVP, chairman of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., said in a recent press conference that PLDT's multibillion-peso digital shift will likely succeed if the incoming Duterte administration would not meddle too much.

Because of lack of understanding on the implementation of major infrastructure needed to transform PLDT and Smart's services into digital, he said some people including government officials could block the huge project, expected to be operational by 2018.

Last May, Duterte warned telecommunications companies including PLDT, which operates wireless broadband internet services through its subsidiary Smart Communications, and its rival Globe to improve their services or he will allow foreign players into the market.

PLDT and Globe pledged to "support" calls for faster internet following the President's pronouncement. In fact, both linked up and with a joint venture agreed to buy Vega Telecom Inc., the telco business of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), for P69.1 billion to improve their internet services.

However, the new antitrust body Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) said approval for the PLDT-Globe deal would be put on hold pending a comprehensive review that "includes a determination of the relevant market, whether there will be substantial changes to the market structure, and the potential impact of the transaction on public welfare."

PLDT and Globe sealed the deal with SMC last May 30, four days prior to the publication of the competition law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR). The telcos filed the required transaction notices under the PCC guidelines so the regulator could no longer challenge the deal, but the PCC said "the review is intended to ensure that the transaction will, in the end, result in sustained gains for the public by not restricting competition."

The commission's move might have pissed off MVP for him to tell the government to "get out of the way."

According to an online report, the incoming head-of-state knew about it and could not help but fire back at MVP. With the public's welfare in mind, he said "simply recall that you are just a puppet of the foreign based Salim Group, while I am the chosen President of the Republic of the Philippines!"

Duterte was referring to the Salim Group founded by the late Indonesian businessman Liem Sioe Liong and is currently dominantly owned and controlled by his grandson, Anthoni Salim, the 66-year-old son of Soedono Salim; the latter is said to be the biggest and closest crony of the late Indonesian strongman Mohamed Suharto.

According to a report by Manila Times columnist former Press Secretary Rigoberto Tiglao, Salim and not the MVP Group of Companies nor the First Pacific Group founded by Pangilinan, owns PLDT - one of the biggest conglomerates in the Philippines today.

One of Tiglao's references was Forbes magazine's billionaires list, in which Salim was ranked as the third richest Indonesian in 2014 with a net worth of $5.9 billion. Forbes’ profile of Salim that year, the report said, is a revelation: "Salim's Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) has invested $445 million [in] a 10% stake in Germany's Rocket Internet."

Salim acquired PLDT in 1998 for $749 million. "From 2000 to 2014, First Pacific Co., Ltd. – Salim's holding company – generated $2.7 billion in profits from its Philippine operations, mostly from PLDT amounting to $2.2 billion," according to the report.