Prietos to sell Inquirer to business tycoon Ramon Ang

Prieto family says move to divest from Inquirer was a “strategic business decision”

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 30, 2016 shows San Miguel Corporation president Ramon Ang speaking at the Philippine Stock Exchange during the listing of San Miguel in Manila’s financial district. / AFP / Noel Celis

(Eagle News) — The Inquirer said Monday its owners – the Prietos — are in talks to sell the business to business tycoon Ramon Ang.

Marixi Prieto, chairwoman of the Inquirer Group of Companies, said the family had decided to quit the publishing business and was in talks to sell it to the president of top Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corp.

“The Prieto family’s decision to divest after 25 years is a strategic business decision that it believes will maximize group opportunities for the Inquirer group,” the paper said in a statement.

Ang said Monday he has accepted the Prieto family’s offer to invest in the Inquirer Group but gave no details.

The decision came months after the President started criticizing the Inquirer and its owners over the Mile Long property they claim but which Duterte said already belonged to the government.

Duterte said that the Prietos owed the government a lot of money in back taxes.

Prieto described Ang as a “longstanding friend and business partner” and said the series talks, begun in 2014, restarted early this year “after the Prieto family completed its annual review of business plans in the Inquirer Group and other business interests.”

The official statement of the Inquirer Group of Companies said that the “due diligence review on the Inquirer Group will be undertaken soon by Mr. Ang.”

“The family is confident that Mr. Ang will uphold the Inquirer Group’s commitment to pursuing the highest standards of journalism,” read a portion of the Inquirer Group’s official statement.

It said that the business tycoon’s “investments and business expertise will unlock added value in the Inquirer Group’s newspaper publication, internet communications, social media, corporate skills training, radio broadcasting and logistics delivery.”

Ang said in a statement the paper would “continue to uphold the highest journalistic standards and make a difference in the society it serves.”

The planned Inquirer acquisition follows a pattern of Philippine conglomerates buying into news outlets, sparking concern about media consolidation.

Mile Long dispute

The move by the Prietos to sell the Inquirer came months after President Duterte hit the Inquirer owners for their alleged unpaid taxes and back rentals of the controversial Mile Long property.

A former presidential spokesperson of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Rigoberto Tiglao, alleged the Inquirer owners owed the government P1.8 billion in unpaid rentals up to May this year for the Mile Long government property.

Duterte, in April, vowed to recover the government property.

“Inquirer, you have to let go of that property. It is not yours,” he said. He said that that “within six months” he “will go after” the Inquirer’s owners.

In May, the President again called on the Prieto and Rufino families, the owners of the Sunvar Realty Development Corp. and the  Inquirer, to return the government property.

“Isauli ninyo iyang property. Otherwise, I would tell the Filipino people, go there and occupy your property,” he said.

Mile Long is a 2.9-hectare prime property in Makati owned by the National Power Corp. (NAPOCOR) that was leased to Technology Resource Center Foundation Inc. (TRCFI) in 1978.

In 1986, after the EDSA “People Power,” the Philippine Development Alternatives Foundation (PDAF) took over TRCFI’s rights to the property.

It then entered into a sublease agreement with Sunvar Realty Development Corp., the property arm of the Rufino and Prieto families.

Sunvar then built the Premier Cinema, Mile Long Arcade, Makati Creekside Building, the Gallery Building, and Sunvar Plaza on the property.

But in 2002, Napocor said it would no longer renew the 25-year lease agreement over the property that would end the same year.

Sunvar did not vacate the area, even after 2015, when the Office of the Solicitor General won the case it filed in court.

The Metropolitan Trial Court had then ordered the firm to vacate the area and pay government P478.2 million in back rentals.

It also ordered Sunvar to pay a monthly rental of P3.2 million monthly until it vacates the property.

Sunvar argued that it has the exclusive option to extend the lease for another 25 years, and got an injunction from the Makati Regional Trial Court branch 58.

In 2016, the Court of Appeals denied the government’s appeal for a temporary restraining order against the injunction issued by the Makati RTC.

(Eagle News Service, with a report from Agence France Presse)