MVP: We will work with government

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

Manuel V. Pangilinan, or simply “MVP”, was doing extremely well in Hong Kong where he was based and very successful in managing the First Pacific Company in partnership with the Salim Group, growing a small investment company into a major regional conglomerate.

After more than 20 years, Manny decided it was time to go back to the Philippines, with the prime objective of doing something for the country. He was a Filipino after all – hoping to share his management skills and expertise to the country of his birth. I knew Manny’s father, Dominador Pangilinan, who was then president of Traders Royal Bank, a sister company of KBS-Channel 9. His father was a self-made man just like Manny was.

Upon his return, MVP decided to take over a moribund telephone company – the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company – and almost singlehandedly turned it into the telecommunications giant now simply known as PLDT which allocated a record P78.4 billion in capital expenditures for 2019, with plans to increase capex even more in 2020 to further expand the telco’s network. 

 Aside from the telecommunications business, the MVP Group also ventured into other areas that include mining, healthcare, power distribution, transportation and water through Metro Pacific Investments Corp. MVP was well aware that a lot of challenges as well as big risks would be involved when one takes over public utility companies such as Meralco (the country’s largest power distribution company) and Maynilad (the water services provider for Metro Manila’s West Zone), but this did not deter him.

He knew that a delicate balancing act would be required to make such companies viable and profitable while making sure that efficient service would be provided to the general public. Having gone to the Ateneo where he was taught to be “a man for others,” it has been ingrained in him to be of service to his fellowmen with the end in view of contributing to national development.

To Manny Pangilinan, it’s not all about money: It’s giving back that counts. This was clearly demonstrated in the humanitarian activities that his companies – primarily through the PLDT-Smart Foundation – are engaged in, extending help in many ways from scholarships to disaster relief operations to livelihood programs and other undertakings that have changed the lives of many for the better, with many acts of generosity not even reported to media. He even set up a sports foundation to hone the talent of Filipinos in several sports.

At one point, his business partner Anthony Salim complained to mutual friends that “the trouble with Manny” is that “sometimes I’m beginning to believe he is no longer a businessman but being very nationalistic for his country.”

Clearly, the reason is because corporate social responsibility is not lip service for Manny Pangilinan; neither is it a soundbite. Rather, helping others is a passionate advocacy – which is not surprising considering that he also benefited from the generosity of others for his studies, obtaining scholarships to San Beda, the Ateneo and the Wharton School of Economics.

While most businessmen would only look at the profit margins, the “bottom line” is not always the bottom line as far as the PLDT chief is concerned. Take for instance the controversy involving Maynilad.

When the MVP group took over the water services company in 2007, Maynilad was faced with an enormous debt, which was eventually settled in 2008. Billions of pesos were spent to repair leaks from busted underground pipes, with illegal connections aggravating the system losses because of non-revenue water.

As a matter of fact, sources disclosed that when it was still the MWSS (Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System) taking charge of water distribution, the non-revenue water was at a very high 60 percent, but is now down to 20 percent. While water is a natural resource and is supposed to be free for everyone, Manny knew that having water collected, treated and piped to people’s homes for their use – with the corresponding sewage collected and treated again – require financial expenditures. In the years since it took over Maynila, the MVP Group has laid hundreds of kilometers of sewage lines and constructed water reclamation and sewage treatment facilities, all of which cost billions of pesos.

We all know now that Maynilad filed a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Singapore against the government for the losses it incurred when the company was disallowed from increasing water rates. Last year, the Singapore high court ruled in favor of the company and ordered the government to pay the former for revenue losses amounting to P3.4 billion.

MVP however already indicated shortly after winning the case that he was “more than willing” to drop arbitration proceedings and very amenable to working with government to seek a way forward on tariffs and fully settle the issues, noting that it was always better to work with, rather than fighting, government. At the recent Congressional hearing last Tuesday, Maynilad (as well as Manila Water) have made it clear they were not pursuing the implementation of the PCA ruling – which is supposed to take effect in January 2020 – that obliges the government to pay billions to the water company for the losses incurred when MWSS refused to implement water rate hikes from 2013 to 2017. Certainly, this is a step toward the right direction that can only be beneficial to the general public.

Now in his senior years, Manny Pangilinan’s ultimate goal is to leave a legacy and give back to his country that has given him many blessings in life.

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