Manila, June 13, 2003 By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes (Star) Will he step down or won’t he?

Following his appointment as chief executive officer and managing director of Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd., speculations now abound as to whether or not Manuel V. Pangilinan will relinquish his post as president and CEO of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT).

During the recently concluded PLDT stockholders meeting, Pangilinan said he has no plans in the near future to name his successor. "But definitely, I am not going to live forever," he jokingly said.

He added that he will be attending next year’s PLDT stockholders’ meeting, although in what capacity, he did not say. First Pacific owns 24.4 percent of PLDT and accounts for the single biggest shareholding in the Philippines’ largest telecommunications company.

He, however, admitted that being now the chief strategist of First Pacific and with the latter now adopting a pro-active stance in expanding regionally, Pangilinan admitted that he will definitely have his hands full.

Earlier reports quoted him as saying that he plans to hand over the post to a younger candidate, but when asked about it, Pangilinan said there will be no changes, at least in the next few years. One of those mentioned as his possible replacement was Napoleon Nazareno, president of Smart Communications Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of PLDT.

Some PLDT insiders say that the earliest Pangilinan will give up his PLDT post is in 2004.

The 46-year-old management whiz plans to shuttle between Manila and Hong Kong at least once a week and stay in Hong Kong probably for three days every week, a schedule which he admits will be very strenuous.

Pangilinan was recently named managing director and CEO of First Pacific in the company’s recent elections, working in tandem with chairman Anthoni Salim in bringing back the lost glory of the conglomerate, which in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, was acquiring companies in the region left and right, hence Pangilinan’s previous monicker ‘Pacman’ (for the video game character).

However, First Pacific was among the companies hit hard by the Asian financial crisis. The Salims, who were allegedly cronies of former Indonesia strongman President Suharto, also saw many of their Indonesia-based assets being sequestered by the government. In the years that followed, the company had to sell many of its assets such that today, it is left with two major ones — PLDT and the world’s largest noodle-making company, Indofood based in Indonesia.

Just recently, Pangilinan revealed that he is now finalizing a strategy for First Pacific that will entail building on the conglomerate’s two biggest assets — PLDT and Indofood — in creating a regional telecommunications and food presence.

"We have a good future for First Pacific," Pangilinan told The STAR.

A closer relationship between First Pacific and PLDT is seen, especially following the appointment of one of Salim’s closest allies, Benny Santoso, both as non-executive director of PLDT and as a board member of First Pacific. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Albert del Rosario, a PLDT board member, was also named to the First Pacific board recently.

Pangilinan believes that First Pacific has no immediate plans of selling its stake in PLDT. "While they know that they will not be getting immediate returns in terms of dividends, First Pacific realizes that eventually, PLDT will be a significant cash machine for them," he said.

He added that the First Pacific board is ‘happy with the prospects and performance of PLDT.’

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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