The BFFs and Frenemies of Philippine Infra

Posted at 02/04/13 6:54 PM

MANILA, Philippines - So, it could be Manny V. Pangilinan and Lance Gokongwei for the Mactan Cebu International Airport! After PLDT's purchase of Digitel last year, making the Gokongweis the third-biggest shareholder in MVP's flagship, this deal would make them BFFs.

Except that MVP has other partnerships, and his partners in some deals are his rivals in others. For example, with or without the Gokongweis, MVP will be bidding for Mactan-Cebu against the Ayala-Aboitiz tandem, but he's with Ayala in bidding for Metro Manila rail contracts, and has bought a part of the water project of Ayala's Manila Water, also in Cebu. While competing with Manila Water in Manila, via Maynilad Water, his venture with the DMCI group. Not to mention his PLDT competing with Ayala's Globe Telecom.

Got that?

It's not the first time MVP, Gokongwei and the Zobel de Ayalas have shared the same stage. And it all started so bitterly.

In 2002, John Gokongwei struck a deal with MVP's principal Antony Salim to buy PLDT and Fort Bonifacio. (For those too young to remember, Salim's First Pacific, headed by MVP, beat Ayala in a bidding for Fort Bonifacio in 1995. He started to develop it but the project was sunk by the Asian financial crisis, making Salim want to sell it.)

Pangilinan blocked the deal and, in the end, he and Salim kept PLDT but sold Bonifacio --- to Ayala.

If Gokongwei bids and wins -- with MVP or another group -- it will be a triumph for John Gokongwei, who famously left Cebu for Manila, as he rebuilt his family's fortune. And then some. Not that he hasn't acquired and built a lot in Cebu since. But the airport is the gateway everyone has to pass through, including the Aboitizes, who can claim to be the richest Cebu-based family and would love to own its front door.

Now that MVP's Mactan-Cebu partner has been revealed, the next reveal would be the partner of his "frenemy," San Miguel and Philippine Airlines boss Ramon Ang. He already owns one airport — Caticlan, the gateway to Boracay — and says he will build one in an undisclosed location near Manila. He surely wants Mactan-Cebu in his infra empire. Not to mention another match-up with MVP.

But that's another tangled web we'll weave.