media industry

FAST FACTS: Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Inc.

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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FAST FACTS: Romualdez’s Prime Media Holdings Inc.

Senatorial candidates Neri Colminares, Lorna Kapunan and Martin Romualdez during #TheLeaderIWant Forum at the De La Salle University Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium on January 20, 2016

Alecs Ongcal

(UPDATED) A closer look at House Speaker Martin Romualdez's Prime Media Holdings Inc. and the significance of its joint venture with Lopez-led ABS-CBN Corp.

MANILA, Philippines – House Speaker Martin Romualdez can now be counted as one of the major players in the Philippines’ broadcast industry, following a joint venture deal announced on Tuesday, May 23, between Prime Media Holdings Incorporated and the struggling Lopez-led ABS-CBN Corporation.

Romualdez, a lawyer, has gradually been growing his broadcast footprint over the past two years after the House of Representatives denied ABS-CBN a new 25-year franchise in July 2020. Romualdez, who was then the House majority floor leader, and his wife, Tingog (Voice) Party-list Representative Yedda Marie Romualdez, were among the 70 members of the lower chamber who voted against ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

The House Speaker, however, is not new in the broadcasting business. He started in 2008, or 15 years ago, after Congress granted his company a franchise to establish radio and TV stations in his home region, Eastern Visayas. These stations carry the FMR (Favorite Music Radio) brand, which are also the initials of his full name, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

He has been using a dormant holding company, Prime Media Holdings Incorporated (PMHI), as the entity to expand his broadcast business.

Romualdez’s name is actually not on Prime Media’s website, nor on the documents the publicly-listed company discloses with the Philippine Stock Exchange. 

A composite photo which depicts the identical branding of radio station FMR – Favorite Music Radio – with House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez (FMR). Left screenshot is from Speaker Romualdez’s Facebook page while the right screenshot is from FMR Philippines’ Facebook page

Prime Media’s chairman and president is lawyer Manolito “Mannix” A. Manalo. He is the managing partner of the Ocampo Manalo Valdez & Lim Law Firm or OMLAW. A product of the UP College of Law, he is a fraternity brother of Romualdez in the Upsilon Sigma Phi. His firm provides legal services to Prime Media.  

Prime Media’s office is located at the 16th floor of BDO Towers Valero in Makati City. 

Its vice president is another product of UP College of Law, Bernadeth A. Lim, a partner in OMLAW.

Romualdez was one of the high-profile guests in OMLAW’s 20th anniversary six years ago.

PRIME MEDIA. Lawyer Manolito Manalo (left), chairman and president of Prime Media Holdings Incorporated, and Bernadeth A. Lim, vice-president of Prime Media. Manalo is managing partner of the Ocampo, Manalo, Valdez, and Lim Law Firm (OMLAW), while Lim is a partner. Composite photo from the lawyers’ images on OMLAW’s website

Its majority stockholder is RYM Business Management Corporation, a holding company of the Romualdez family. Prime Media is a subsidiary of RYM, which has been financing Prime Media’s operations.

Prime Media traces its origins to the defunct Private Development Corporation of the Philippines (PDCP), later renamed PDCP Development Bank, which was incorporated in 1963. This private development bank was headed for a long time by the late Vicente “Ting” Jayme, who served as finance chief during the administration of former president Corazon Aquino. The Metro Pacific Group bought PDCP in 1992 which would become First e-Bank Corporation. In 2002, the Sy family’s Banco de Oro Unibank Incorporated (BDO) bought First e-Bank.

In 2003, it adopted the name Prime Media Holdings Incorporated. Its articles of incorporation were amended with its primary business purpose changed from development banking to being a holding company with investments in the media industry and other businesses.

Prime Media was basically dormant for many years during this transition. It was RYM, its parent company, which provided funds for the company’s operations. It retired all its employees in 2010 and reassessed its business model. The current management team led by Manalo took over in 2013.

Over the past two years, Prime Media has undertaken transactions in the Philippine Stock Exchange, where it is listed as PRIM, in line with its goal to be a “leading holdings company with a revitalized asset and business portfolio which will inspire stakeholder confidence.”

Source: Prime Media Holdings website

As of June 30, 2023, Prime Media disclosed the updated ownership structure of the company. RYM Business Management Corporation and Armstrong Capital Holdings Corporation combined owned 66% of the Prime Media.

Source of basic data: Prime Media, Philippine Stock Exchange
Enter Philippine Collective Media Corporation

Prime Media’s foray into broadcasting was formalized on July 30, 2021, when it entered into a memorandum of understanding with the majority stockholders of Philippine Collective Media Corporation (PCMC).

In a share-for-share deal, PCMC shareholders jointly subscribed to 1.6 billion common shares of Prime Media, which were paid in the form of PCMC shares. Prime Media obtained the business, assets and ownership of PCMC, and PCMC became a subsidiary of Prime Media.

PCMC was founded in 2008 by Romualdez. It got its franchise to operate radio and television stations in the Eastern Visayas during the Arroyo administration when the 14th Congress passed Republic Act 9773.

Two years later, it had three stations: AM station DYBR; FM station DYDR, and the first privately-owned regional TV station based in Tacloban, PRTV. The AM station was destroyed in 2013 during Super Typhoon Yolanda and was not revived. 

House Deputy Secretary-General Sofonias Gabonada Jr., Screenshot of a now-deleted post from his Instagram

PCMC’s president is Sofonias “Ponyong” Gabonada Jr., the current deputy secretary-general of the House of Representatives, now led by Romualdez. He was a campaign officer of the Uniteam tandem of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte. First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, in a birthday greeting, described him as someone who “gets things done.”

According to his Facebook profile, he is a “digital creator” from Tagum City, and a former assistant provincial administrator of Davao del Norte.

A screenshot of a birthday greeting for PCMC President Sofonias Gabonada, also the current House Deputy Secretary-General, from FMR Tacloban’s Facebook page

PCMC operates the FMR or Favorite Music Radio station based in Tacloban City on the 100.7 FM band. There’s also FMR Calbayog 88.5, FMR Catbalogan 106.9, FMR Borongan 101.7, FMR Ormoc 100.9, and FMR Catarman. It operates daily from 4 am to 12 midnight. 

From regional to national

On December 21, 2020, the 18th Congress amended PCMC’s franchise from regional to national, allowing it to air beyond Eastern Visayas. The amended franchise also allowed it to go into digital television. PRTV became the first digital free-TV channel in Region 8 when it was relaunched in November 2020. It now also airs on cable television via Cignal Channel 317.

“With PCMC’s national franchise, the Company may use this as a leverage to provide other content providers an avenue to broadcast their contents, regionally and nationwide, for profit,” said Prime Media in its 2022 annual report.

According to Prime Media, in addition to its stations in Eastern Visayas, PCMC now has FMR stations in the following areas:

  • LUZON – Cagayan, Baguio, Nueva Vizcaya, Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon
  • VISAYAS – Bacolod, Maasin
  • MINDANAO – Camiguin, Dipolog, Ipil, Pagadian, Zamboanga, Butuan, Digos, Tagum, Iligan, Nabunturan

The following are its affiliate stations: FMR Happy Radio in Tumauni (Isabela); FMR Radyo Partido Goa (Camarines Sur); FMR University FM in Nabua (Camarines Sur); FMR Montevista (Davao de Oro); Radyo Asenso Monkayo (Davao de Oro); Radio Ignacio Cotabato (Cotabato); ZRadio Philippines (Davao de Oro).

In 2022, Prime Media had said that by the end of that year, it would hit the airwaves in the following places: Pampanga, Quezon, Mindoro, Romblon, Puerto Princesa, Sorsogon, Iloilo, Bohol, Siargao, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos.

“Prime Media plans to expand its media platform with the acquisition of additional frequencies for both free TV and radio. The company intends to work with independent content providers for programs to air,” the company had said in a June 23, 2022 press statement.

FMR stations are also on digital platforms where they livestream news and entertainment shows. Fifteen FMR stations are available on the digital app FMR Philippines.

‘Mother station’
A screenshot of a webpage of the Journal Group of Publications website on the inauguration of the FMR (Favorite Music Radio) Station in Makati City on July 1, 2021 with then-House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Philippine Collective Media Corporation President Sofonias Gabonada Jr. (extreme right). Courtesy of Journal Group of Publications

On July 1, 2021, Gabonada inaugurated the new FMR station at the 6th floor of Universal RE Building in Paseo de Roxas-Perea, Makati City, with then-majority leader Romualdez as “special guest.” 

During the inauguration, Gabonada called the FMR Radio Station in Makati FMR Philippines’ “mother station” – FMR’s 18th – that will be “linked” to all of its other stations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

In an interview by the Manila Standard, also owned by Romualdez, during the launch of FMR’s “main office,” Romualdez called FMR “one of the fastest growing radio and even TV broadcast company.”

Fast forward to May 23, 2023, ABS-CBN and Prime Media approved a business deal wherein the latter will have a controlling 51% stake in a joint venture company.

In its press statement about the deal, ABS-CBN said the new company that will be formed will “produce various programs, which will be supplied to broadcasters and other 3rd party platforms, including Philippine Collective Media Corporation.”

Sources told Rappler that a news channel will rise using the DZMM 630 kilohertz (kHz) frequency which ABS-CBN lost in 2020. This will give Romualdez a prime place in the AM band which had a wide audience reach in vote-rich greater Manila area, especially in southern Luzon, when it was with ABS-CBN.

Under the joint venture, Prime Media will also have access to ABS-CBN’s entertainment shows that can help boost its FMR radio stations as well as its digital television and social media platforms. For ABS-CBN, the deal helps expand its reach in a major way via PCMC’s national franchise, which is key to improving advertising revenue that it badly needs to survive.

Likewise, if Prime Media continues to expand throughout the country, Romualdez’s broadcast and digital platforms, boosted by ABS-CBN content, will certainly be useful if he decides to run for national office in 2028. –

(Editor’s note: Two images of House Deputy Secretary-General Sofonias Gabonada Jr., also president of Philippine Collective Media Corporation, which were initially embedded in this article from his then-public Instagram account have been replaced after those posts were no longer visible hours after this article was first published. An embedded image from this then-public Facebook account showing him in a Uniteam rally with then-Davao Mayor Sara Duterte is also no longer in this updated article since it is no longer available. A composite photo depicting identical branding of radio station FMR – Favorite Music Radio – and House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez has also been added. This story also reflects the updated ownership structure of Prime Media as of June 30, 2023.)

An abundance of Ferdinands: Martin Romualdez is House Speaker under President Marcos

An abundance of Ferdinands: Martin Romualdez is House Speaker under President Marcos

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.