MANILA, NOVEMBER 5, 2003 (MALAYA) By RACHELLE FRIGINAL - Manuel V. Pangilinan plans to leave his post as president and CEO of PLDT to focus on running the Hong Kong conglomerate, First Pacific Co. Ltd., which controls PLDT.

Pangilinan may assume the post of chairman which will be vacated by Antonio "Tonyboy" Cojuangco who in turn will concentrate on a newly-bought TV broadcast company, Associated Broadcasting Corp. (ABC channel 5).

Cojuangco will remain PLDT director.

Pangilinan's replacement will be Napoleon Nazareno, whom he has recommended. Nazareno is the current president of Smart Communications Inc., biggest revenue hauler of PLDT.

The reshuffling of PLDT top posts will be done around February next year, Pangilinan said.

"There's always a time to go and for me personally it's quite near," Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan will be leaving PLDT with its share price much improved from the P275 per share low it hit at the height of the Gokongwei family's attempt to buy the company.

PLDT now fetches P820 per share, a big improvement from the P300 per share average last year but still below the over P1,200 per share acquisition price of First Pacific in 1998. The share price has more than tripled in the past year.

Pangilinan and Cojuangco joined forces to repel Gokongwei's attempt to buy PLDT.

PLDT, Pangilinan said is working out a transition plan and elections will be held by February.

"The board of First Pacific wants me to spend more time in Hong Kong. It would be unfair to either First Pac or PLDT. It would be unfair for PLDT which needs a fulltime CEO," he noted.

Pangilinan stressed that his boss in First Pac, Anthoni Salim has already been informed of the plan and gives a positive note on the matter.

"I think he agrees, he knows, he has been consulted about the plans," he said.

Meanwhile PLDT reported that a surge in wireless users, largely at Smart, helped drive third-quarter net profit to P4.01 billion ($72.2 million) from P958 million a year earlier.

The company held to its 2003 full-year profit forecast of P9-P10 billion after provisions.

PLDT shares closed up 5.13 percent or P40 at P820, helping the main stock index rise 1.47 percent to an 18-month high.

After years of sharp growth in the capital, Manila, the battle for new wireless subscribers has moved into provincial cities and rural areas, with phone firms offering a range of cheaper products to entice low-income users.

PLDT's two wireless units, Smart and Pilipino Telephone Corp. (Piltel), are offering a service that lets users buy as little as P30 of credit for calls without buying a pre-paid card. They simply pay money to an authorized dealer who then credits their phone with the amount.

PLDT said it had added close to 1.2 million wireless subscribers in the third quarter alone, more than in the first or second quarters, and had a total customer base in excess of 12 million users at the end of October.

Smart's net income in the third quarter hit a record P4.2 billion.

Smart and Piltel control around 58 percent of the country's wireless market of about 20 million subscribers, with closest rival Globe Telecom holding about 40 percent.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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