Manuel Villar Jr.

MANILA, Philippines — Billionaire Manuel Villar Jr. is preparing to list three more companies, including a provincial electric utility and his group of coffee chains, over the next 12 months, cementing his position as the most rich in the country.

Villar, in an interview with reporters last week, described a business empire that was on the move as the Philippines was set to elect a new leader on May 9. The upcoming polls mark an important transition for the country and in particular for the Villars, a family where big business and politics combine.

Villar himself was a former Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, and presidential candidate. He had also made alliances with powerful public figures over the years.

He considers President Rodrigo Duterte a personal friend and recently gave his full support to the presidential race of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the poll’s favorite and namesake son of the late dictator.

During Thursday’s interview, however, Villar said he wanted to talk business.

The 72-year-old property, retail and utilities magnate said listings and expansion were part of family estate planning.

Former ABS-CBN Frequencies

The new ventures would also include an integrated media division with the help of television frequencies once owned by ABS-CBN Corp., whose television shutdown two years ago by Duterte and his allies in Congress has been politically decried as motivated.

While some groups suspend their investments before the elections, Villar Prime Asset Ventures Inc. agreed in March to buy the interests of Ayala Corp. in the 4 kilometer Muntinlupa Cavite highway for 3.8 billion pesos.

Ultimately, the leadership of the group was founded on Villar’s belief that the Philippines was on the verge of achieving its goal of becoming an upper-middle-income economy. This is despite recent government data showing high poverty incidence figures affecting millions of Filipinos last year due to the impact of the pandemic.

” We’re climbing. It’s the critics who don’t listen to Digong [Duterte]“, he said during the interview.

He revealed plans to build more upscale projects and phase out low-cost, mass housing while his upcoming initial public offerings (IPOs) would take advantage of the country’s economic growth and expanding middle class.

The electric utility, Siquijor Island Power Corp. or Sipcor, would be listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange during the third quarter of the year, he said.

Along with assets of the government’s Small Power Utilities Group that were previously auctioned, Sipcor’s listing would give investors a stake in its approximately 21 megawatt power assets in Siquijor and Camotes Islands.

Villar said his coffee group, which includes the eight-year-old Coffee Project chain and other restaurant concepts based on caffeinated drinks, would be listed in November or early 2023 once it doubles its few 100 outlets today.

He said Coffee Project cafes were profitable and charged higher prices for drinks than local outlets of US-based Starbucks, which had more than 400 stores across the country, according to recent data.

Later this month, its real estate investment trust arm, VistaREIT Inc., would go public via a 9 billion peso IPO.

Villar controls five publicly traded companies: AllDay Marts Inc., AllHome Corp., Golden MV Holdings, Vista Land & Lifescapes Inc. and Vistamalls Inc., which have a combined market value of over 500 billion pesos.

But recent IPOs such as AllDay and AllHome were significantly below their offering price amid the general downward trend in the stock market. Villar said new registration plans will continue.

“I wouldn’t list a company if it’s bad,” he said.

The media business was the next foray as Villar planned to consolidate its assets under Advanced Media Broadcasting System Inc. (AMBS), whose 25-year broadcast franchise was extended in 2019.

The National Telecommunications Commission on January 5 assigned the Channel 2 and Channel 16 analog television frequencies previously owned by ABS-CBN to AMBS, although the company has no broadcasting history.

Villar, who said the controversial award was fair, said there was no rush to operate a television network.

He was also open to partnering with ABS-CBN for his content but was mum on their overall strategy.

“I don’t limit myself to anything,” Villar said.

Meanwhile, the group was exploring formats similar to American news and entertainment conglomerates such as The Walt Disney Co. and American billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

“We have to go beyond television and radio. When you say Disney they have other companies [like] amusement park. I will be going there as part of the AMBS. My approach will be like Disneyland,” Villar said.

“But when you say ‘beyond’, that means you also have TV and radio,” he added. “We will operate Channel 2. We are Channel 2.”

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