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ON PAPER: Transparency requirements on paper

Companies doing business in the Philippines are required to disclose their ownership structures to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where that information can be obtained for a fee. 

All publicly listed / stock-listed companies are additionally required to publish ownership information to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Inc. (PSEI). Among these information are their company profile, Board of Directors, organizational structure, shareholding structure as well as periodic reports and statements of beneficial ownership and the General Information Sheet. Non-publicly listed companies have no such requirements.

COMPLIANCE: How transparent are media companies?

The Media Ownership Monitor again analyzed publicly available data, both online and offline from PSEI and SEC for 2023. Media outlets with missing data were contacted for a list of follow-up questions. More than 53 media outlets were analyzed and traced to 27 media companies. The results are:

For the majority (21) of the companies together with their related outlets, ownership data was available by request from the SEC. A few cases have outdated General Information Sheet and Audited Financial Statements. 

Actively transparent were the media outlets belonging to stock-listed companies, legally obliged to inform proactively and comprehensively about their ownership on the website or in the newspaper. This concerned 13 of the outlets, belonging to ABS-CBN Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, Manila Broadcasting Company, and Prime Media Holdings, Inc. State-run outlets of the Presidential Communications Office were considered actively transparent since issuances on appointments were released publicly.

Three media companies, Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, GMA Network, and ABS-CBN,  were considered passively transparent, which means representatives from their respective companies reacted to follow-up questions and were open to talking to the research team.

None of the media companies had publicly unavailable information.

No company actively disguised the ownership structure, e. g. through bogus companies.

REALITY CHECK: a system of layers and restrictions clouds transparency

The existing regulatory safeguards do not prevent the practice of layering company structures to hide ultimate beneficial owners. While this complexity can be unraveled, it requires extensive  investigative research, time, and resources.

A classic example of layering is the ownership of Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) in Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer despite the absence of his name in the list of shareholders of these two media companies.

Pangilinan’s ownership of Philippine Star can be traced through Hastings Holdings, Inc. which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MediaQuest Holdings, Inc. owned by the PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund. MVP is the chairman, president and CEO of PLDT, which is majority-owned by Hong kong-based First Pacific Company Limited, chaired by Indonesian tycoon Anthoni Salim. Pangilinan is First Pacific’s managing director and CEO.

Pangilinan’s ownership in Philippine Daily Inquirer can be traced through Treasurekeeper Holdings, Inc. which owns Excel Pacific Holding Corporation that has 6.36% shares in PDI.

Treasurekeeper Holdings is an affiliate of MediaQuest, Inc. which is owned by PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund.

Another example of opaqueness is Prime Media Holdings, Inc. which is publicly identified with House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

RYM Business Management Corporation is the parent company of Prime Media Holdings, which entered into a joint venture with ABS-CBN and established Media Serbisyo Production Corporation that operates radio station DWPM 630 and TeleRadyo Serbisyo on cable TV.

RYM is 99% owned by Trans Middle East Phils. Equities, Inc. which in 1986, was named in a sequestration case as owned by former Leyte governor Benjamin Romualdez, brother of former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Romualdez’ name does not appear in any of Prime Media Holdings and Media Serbisyo corporation documents but two of the directors of these companies are his fraternity brothers. 

Also, while companies have to disclose their ownership structure and financial data, this is not disaggregated or itemized per media outlet.

Moreover, the beneficial ownership declaration (BOD) in the GIS, which indicates the natural person/s ultimately owning the company, is not available to be purchased by the public from the SEC. The Media Ownership Monitoring team requested from the SEC the said information.  The Anti-Money Laundering Division of the Enforcement and Investor Protection Department of the SEC denied the request, citing that BOD information shall only be made available for law enforcement purposes to protect the data privacy rights of individuals. 

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