The owners of top newspaper the Philippine Daily Inquirer are in talks to sell the publication, months after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened a shame campaign against them over coverage critical of his ongoing deadly drug war.
Marixi Prieto, chairwoman of the Inquirer Group of Companies, said on Monday that the family has decided to quit the newspaper business and od in talks to sell it to tycoon Ramon Ang, president of top Philippine conglomerate San Miguel Corp. and a known Duterte supporter and campaign contributor.
Prieto’s statement, published on the Inquirer’s Facebook page at about 4pm, did not disclose the exact percentage of shares Ang would acquire.
Duterte said during an event in December that Ang donated to his campaign, despite the businessman not being listed on his statement of campaign contributions and expenses.
Duterte told an audience that the tycoon — worth US$2.4 billion — offered to buy him a jet.
“[Ang] said it [flying commercial] was not safe. It was OK when I was still mayor but not anymore because I am the president already,” Duterte told his audience, including Ang, who was at the event.
Ang, the Philippines’ 14th-richest man, offered to buy the president a Gulfstream jet in particular, he said. Those jets carry an estimated value of US$21 million-$65 million.
Duterte, of course, said he declined the offer.
“The Prieto family’s decision to divest after 25 years is a strategic business decision that it believes will maximize group opportunities for the Inquirer group,” the paper said in a statement.
Ang said Monday he has accepted the Prieto family’s offer to invest in the Inquirer Group but gave no details.
Neither side mentioned the paper’s longstanding dispute with Duterte.
In March, Duterte described the Inquirer and television broadcaster ABS-CBN as “sons of whores” and warned them of karmic repercussions for criticizing him for alleged human rights abuses in the drug war.
“I’m not threatening them, but someday their karma will catch up with them,” Duterte said, singling out the Prietos as well as the Lopez family that controls the television network.
“They’re shameless, those sons of whore journalists.”
He also threatened to use the government’s television station to shame the two families, and the subject has been a recurring theme in many of the president’s speeches.
Duterte had vowed during the election campaign last year to kill tens of thousands of drug dealers and users to stop the country from sliding into what he terms narco-state status.
Since he came to power a year ago, police and unknown gunmen have killed thousands of suspects, but Duterte has rejected criticism from human rights groups that his crackdown may amount to a crime against humanity.
Prieto described Ang as a “longstanding friend and business partner” and said the talks, begun in 2014, restarted early this year.
“The family is confident that Mr Ang will uphold the Inquirer Group’s commitment to pursuing the highest standards of journalism.”
Ang said in a statement the paper would “continue to uphold the highest journalistic standards and make a difference in the society it serves.”
The planned Inquirer acquisition follows a pattern of Philippine conglomerates buying into news outlets, sparking concern about media consolidation.
It is also Ang’s first acquisition of a news media company after previously looking into acquiring stakes in GMA, Solar Media (the franchise holder of CNN Philippines) and IBC-13.
With reports from AFP with edits