Philippine tycoons

The rising son

Ralf Rivas

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The rising son
From his mother, Senator Loren Legarda, to Manny Pangilinan and Elon Musk, here's a deep dive on Leandro Leviste's influences and big moves (so far) in business

Whenever Leandro Leviste makes a move, investors in the stock market move too.

The 31-year-old has been responsible for some of the biggest jumps in several stock prices this year, as he sets to bail out some companies from bankruptcy, propose deals with the Philippines’ richest, and expand his business portfolio.

Since he founded Solar Philippines in 2013, he has ventured into agriculture and media, and has teamed up with tycoons like Manny Pangilinan and Enrique Razon.

What business will he get into next?

Leviste’s moves, so far, tie back to who have inspired him. 

Mother and son

On May 2, Leviste announced that he would be venturing into the media industry by buying an 8.5% stake in Lopez-led ABS-CBN.

By buying 76.5 million shares of ABS-CBN through his privately-held companies, LL Holdings and Countryside Investments Holdings Corporation, Leviste became the second largest shareholder, just next to the Lopezes.

He bought the shares at a great discount, as ABS-CBN shares tanked after the network lost its franchise in 2020 amid tirades of former president Rodrigo Duterte. Prior to the House of Representatives revoking its franchise, ABS-CBN shares were trading at over P20 a piece. Values have fallen to single-digit in recent years amid the company’s losses.

Share prices fell even more in 2024 as ABS-CBN’s local and foreign investors looked for an exit. On April 29, or just days before Leviste announced his acquisition, ABS-CBN’s stock price fell to just a little above P3.

When news that Leviste was buying in went around, shares surged by almost 10%.

It’s been speculated that Leviste is off to the ABS-CBN board, although more shares don’t necessarily entitle him to a seat. Leviste, however, will wield some influence through his voting power.

Prior to this deal, Leviste had no experience in the media. But his mother, Senator Loren Legarda, used to be among the network’s most prominent news anchors from 1986 to 1997.

In a Facebook post, Leviste’s Solar Philippines highlighted that the acquisition was made days before Mother’s Day. The company even shared photos of Legarda anchoring The World Tonight, with the toddler Leviste in a stroller.

MOTHER AND CHILD. Loren Legarda anchors ABS-CBN’s ‘The World Tonight’ with Leandro Leviste, who was still an infant in the early ’90s. Photo from Solar Philippines.

“ABS-CBN is a great company that has helped countless people over the years. I hope there may now be a way for us to be of help, for the benefit of ABS-CBN’s shareholders and employees, and the media industry of the Philippines,” Leviste said.

This wasn’t the first time Leviste publicly expressed his love for his mother.

On May 6, 2022 or three days before the national and local elections, Leviste published a column in the Philippine Star entitled, “Why I am so proud of my mom,” which enumerated Legarda’s achievements as a news anchor, politician, and single mother. Legarda was then seeking a return to the Senate.

Legarda was married to former Batangas governor Antonio Leviste in 1989. Their marriage produced two sons, namely Leandro and Lorenzo. The couple separated in 2003 and their marriage was annulled in 2008.

“When I was 16 years old, I felt a pain in my chest. My mom was preparing to launch her 2010 vice presidential campaign, yet she canceled all her schedules and insisted on bringing me to the hospital, where we learned that I had punctured my lung. She stayed overnight on a bench in the ICU throughout my confinement. Her combination of caring and attention to detail saved my life,” Leviste said in the column.

“The older I get, and the more I see of the realities of life, the more I have come to appreciate all that my mom has done and continues to do for her family and her country. I have never been more proud of my mom than I am now. Advanced Happy Mother’s Day, mom!”

Leandro published this letter days after his older brother published a scathing write-up against their mother.

In “An open letter of grief from Loren Legarda’s son” published on Rappler last May 4, 2022, five days before the elections, Lorenzo expressed his deep disgust and pain over his mother’s decision to endorse the candidates of the UniTeam Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.

“I am in utter grief. F*** my mother for abetting this. Their crimes are her crimes now. Make her defend them,” Lorenzo said.

Both Lorenzo and Leandro studied abroad. Lorenzo completed high school in the US and pursued art history in London. Meanwhile, Leandro is a Yale dropout.

Leandro returned to the Philippines around 2013 and started Solar Philippines. In a Forbes interview, he said he had no plans of returning to school.

First mover

In a Business Sense interview, Leviste confided that he initially took up political science, thinking that his track would be law school.

“I was a sophomore when I started this business (Solar Philippines) and then became a believer that the best way to create change is no longer through government, but through the private sector because of the many constraints of creating change in a very rigid system,” Leviste said.

He was inspired by Elon Musk and his solar energy business. When Leviste was still in Yale, he had invested in Tesla. Around the same time, Musk bought SolarCity Corporation, a startup that popularized solar lease and power purchase agreements (PPA) in the US. Musk bought it for $2.8 billion, which was a 30% premium on SolarCity’s market value at that time.

The rising son

SolarCity allowed customers to install solar panels with little to no upfront cost. Instead of purchasing the systems outright, customers paid a monthly fee for the energy the panels produced, often at a rate lower than their existing utility bills. This made solar energy more accessible by eliminating the high initial cost barrier.

“When I saw the likes of Elon Musk with Tesla that was pioneering business models for the installation of solar panels on rooftops through SolarCity…I was inspired that you can get a lot done as a business person even in a short amount of time,” Leviste said.

Leviste would carry out a similar business in the Philippines. He founded Solar Philippines in 2013, which basically installed solar energy systems on top of houses and commercial buildings. 

In 2014, Solar Philippines completed the solar panel rooftop installation in SM City North EDSA which has 5,760 solar panels installed. At that time, it was the largest solar-powered rooftop installation on a mall, not just in the Philippines, but in the world.

To date, Solar Philippines has already completed the installation of solar panels in eight SM Malls, including SM City North EDSA, SM Mall of Asia, SM City Iloilo, SM City Cauayan, SM City Cabanatuan, SM City Trece Martires, SM Center Tuguegarao Downtown, and SM Seaside City Cebu.

Leviste told SM Prime’s Hans Sy that he “had taken quite an interest in SM being the first to adopt solar for the consumption of commercial buildings in the Philippines.”

In an interview with Forbes, he said he funded this through a $100-million loan arranged through family connections and his Tesla profits.

Since then, he aspired to build the largest solar farm, not just in the Philippines, but the world.

Former colleagues described Leviste as driven and ambitious, with big dreams in business. His aspirations, however, would come off as impatient and even quite bossy. These former colleagues, however, would note that they understood Leviste’s demeanor, given the many projects he took in such a short period of time. The political side of business was also a stress point.

In 2018, he founded Solar Para sa Bayan, which develops microgrid systems by combining solar panels, battery storage, and backup generators to supply reliable electricity in off-grid areas. It also engaged local government units to implement these solar projects.

This model, however, would be questioned after Leviste secured a 25-year legislative franchise. Critics argued that this franchise provided Leviste with unfair advantages over other renewable energy companies and allowed it to bypass regulatory requirements. (READ: House OKs Legarda son’s nationwide power franchise in 4 months)

Leviste was able to secure the nod of lawmakers just four months after he applied for the franchise. In under a year, Duterte signed that into law.

Leviste has denied that his senator-mother backed him up. But anonymous staffers of politicians previously noted the strong lobby for the “mega franchise.”

To date, Leviste has secured over 10,000 hectares of land in Batangas, Nueva Ecija, and Tarlac for solar energy zones. It has solar farms in Calatagan in Batangas, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija.

Leviste has also secured various deals with tycoons, including power supply deals with Pangilinan’s Manila Electric Company (MERALCO), as well as the ambitious building of the Philippines’ largest solar farm.


Leviste’s journey into the solar energy space was far from smooth. There had been talks of funding issues stalling projects.

In December 2023, Pangilinan’s MGen Renewable Energy Incorporated completed its P15.9-billion buyout in Leviste’s publicly-listed SP New Energy Corporation (SPNEC), effectively becoming the controlling shareholder with 50.5% voting rights.

Aside from grabbing a stake in the company, Pangilinan was able to take over chairmanship of the SPNEC board. Leviste would step down as vice chairman.

Popular stock market newsletter Merkado Barkada pointed out that this move initially caused some confusion among minority shareholders. After all, a millennial founder with the ambition to build the largest solar farm stepping aside for an industry veteran to take over is not exactly the narrative most were expecting.

Nonetheless, Leviste’s dream of building the world’s largest solar farm with a 3,500-megawatt capacity is still pushing through via subsidiary Terra Solar Corporation, with Pangilinan mulling an equity sale to fund the P200-billion project. 

Should the project be realized, it would be larger than China’s 2,800-MW Golmud and India’s 2,250-MW Bhadla solar parks.

Terra Solar was established in 2020 and was a 50-50 joint venture between Enrique Razon’s Prime Infra and Leviste’s Solar Philippines. SPNEC gained full control of Terra Solar by buying out Razon’s stake in 2023.

BUSINESS DEAL. SPNEC founder Leandro Leviste and Meralco chairman Manny Pangilinan.
What’s next for Leandro?

Leviste and Pangilinan’s business relationship extends beyond solar farms.

Just this May 18, Leviste announced that he was taking over cash-strapped Roxas Holdings for P5 billion, marking his biggest buyout to date.

Roxas Holdings, which is in bioethanol and agribusiness (and previously, sugar), is controlled by Pangilinan’s First Pacific after buying a majority stake back in 2015. With the purchase, Leviste now has the mandate to make the company profitable – a task that 77-year-old Pangilinan struggled to do.

Roxas Holdings saw losses amounting to P367 million last December, and had permanently shut down its 97-year-old sugar refining operations due to losses.

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Roxas Holdings currently has P4.4 billion of debt to banks including Bank of the Philippine Islands, BDO Unibank, and Land Bank of the Philippines, and P1.4 billion of trade payables.

Leviste’s privately-held company, Countryside Investments Holdings Corporation, will gain a 71.6% stake in Roxas Holdings.

“Countryside’s investment will help Roxas Holdings service debt to avoid bankruptcy, increase the tax revenues of the municipality of Nasugbu, and create more and better jobs for the benefit of local farmers and former sugar industry workers,” Leviste said. 

Leviste will be funding this investment from the proceeds of the sale of shares in SPNEC to Pangilinan.

News of Leviste acquiring Roxas Holdings resulted in the stock price almost hitting ceiling price, jumping close to 50% on Monday, May 20.

Did the dry Philippine stock market just find its new darling? –

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Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.