Catholic Church sold Philex shares to Manny Pangilinan?

James Ryan Jonas

Did the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila unload more than 1 million shares of Philex Mining Corporation (PX) in April and May 2011 and sold them directly to Chairman and CEO Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP)?

Documents from the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) seem to show that they did. A cursory look at the latest list of the Top 100 stockholders of Philex confirms that the Catholic Archbishop of Manila is not anymore a major stockholder of the company and that MVP has replaced the Church’s spot as the top 15th shareholder.

MVP bought Philex shares owned by the Church?

Earlier this year, we reported that the Catholic Church — more specifically, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila — is one of the major owners of mining company Philex. With their ownership of 3.2 million shares, they are ranked the top 15th shareholder as of March 2011, with a stake amounting to around PHP66 million. (See Catholic Church has billions invested in BPI, Philex, San Miguel)

However in the June 30, 2011 update, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila is conspicuously absent in the Top 100 stockholders list — with tycoon Manny Pangilinan (of Philex, TV5 and Metro Pacific Inc.) now taking over that particular position.

Spot the difference in the list below:

March 2011 list of Top 100 Stockholders in PX

June 2011 list of Top 100 Stockholders in PX

Back in March 2011, Pangilinan used to be the 31st top shareholder of Philex with more than 2.011 million shares. In a span of just three months, he jumped to the 15th position after acquiring an additional 1.12 million shares, bringing his total stake to 3.13 million shares (valued at PHP87 million as of last week).

Did Pangilinan get these shares directly from the Church? Records from the PSE confirm that Pangilinan did buy 618,750 shares on April 8 and another 500,000 shares on May 5 — a total of 1.12 million shares — but the documents do not show who the seller was.

Wise investment move or damage control?

In any case, there’s really nothing illegal about the sale. What’s just interesting is the seemingly sudden decision of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila to unload its shares of PX, especially considering the timing when the company’s stock is rising to all-time high prices. During the past 3 months alone, Philex already registered a 60% price increase from PHP17.00 back in May to PHP27.90 as of August 19.

The sale could have simply been a wise investment move on the part of the Church to lock in profits but, then again, it could also have been an action of damage control in the midst of a backlash that followed the disclosure that they are a top owner of a company that they were rallying against.

The Catholic Church recently came under fire when news of their investment in Philex Mining Corporation broke out because people were confused about their contradicting stand on the issue. While several Catholic dioceses were actively crusading against mining in the country, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila apparently had millions invested in the largest mining company in the Philippines.

Is the Catholic Church Pro- or Anti-Mining?

In 2010, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) published a statement from the bishops of Eastern Visayas calling to “Bring back the Beautiful Land we had once; STOP MINING IN OUR REGION.”

It also reported on February 2010 about a barricade by villagers in Surigao del Norte to “prevent the entry of the country’s largest mining company (Philex) to their village.”

But the Manila diocese’s investment in Philex seems to have weakened this anti-mining position. If the Church is indeed against mining, why is the largest and most powerful Catholic diocese in the country heavily invested in a mining company?

We don’t know exactly why. What we do know is that by divesting itself of Philex shares, the Church made a correct step in preventing further confusion and commotion among its ranks.

Next logical step for them, however, is to explain why they are still invested in San Miguel Corporation — a maker of beer and hard liquor — considering that the Church opposes vice and alcohol.

James Ryan Jonas teaches business management, investments, and entrepreneurship at the University of the Philippines (UP). He is also the Executive Director of UP Provident Fund Inc., managing and investing P3.2 Billion ($56.4 Million) worth of retirement funds on behalf of thousands of UP employees.