Despite the contraction of the Philippine economy due to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines remained an active market for M&A transactions throughout 2020 and during the first half of 2021. Based on the report of the Philippine Competition Commission, 26 M&A transactions were completed in 2020.
While this indicates a decline in the number of transactions compared to the 46 transactions completed in 2019, the value of the completed transactions grew by 12%, to PHP909.05 billion (approximately USD18.19 billion).
In 2020, the following industries were the most active for M&A in terms of transaction value:
In terms of number of transactions, the following five industries were the most active areas for M&A transactions in 2020:
As the Philippines continues to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing contraction of the majority of Philippine industries, M&A transactions in the following industries – which have sustained positive growth in 2020 – can be expected to grow in number during the coming year:
This is especially applicable to the human health and social work industry in light of Philippine laws that support the government’s continuing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to the information technology and communications industry, in light of the proposed amendments to the Public Service Act, which may potentially allow full foreign ownership of companies operating in the water, energy and telecommunications industries.
Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act
In 2021, the CREATE Act was enacted into law and amends the Tax Code by reducing the Philippine corporate income tax and rationalising investment tax incentives by consolidating such incentives embodied in over 300 different laws into a single Title XIII of the Tax Code. The most salient revisions include the following:
The reduction in the corporate income tax and the grant of uniform incentives to qualified enterprises are expected to promote investments in Philippine corporations and thus stimulate the M&A market.
Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) Notification Thresholds under the Bayanihan To Recover As One (Bayanihan 2) Act
In accordance with Republic Act No 11494 (2020) or the Bayanihan 2 Act, the Philippine Congress has increased the amount thresholds that trigger the mandatory government review of M&A transactions. The increased thresholds are effective from 15 September 2020 until 14 September 2022.
The previous threshold set by the PCC for the Size of Party Test was PHP6 billion, and PHP2.4 billion for the Size of Transaction Test. The Bayanihan 2 Act significantly increased the “transaction value” thresholds for the mandatory government review of M&A transactions to PHP50 billion (approximately USD1 billion). As interpreted by the PCC under the Rules to implement this provision of the Bayanihan 2 Act, this PHP50 billion transaction value threshold shall apply to both the Size of Party and Size of Transaction Tests.
The Rules issued by the PCC also state that transactions entered into during the one-year period from 15 September 2020 until 14 September 2021 shall be exempt from the PCC’s power to initiate a motu proprio review of M&A.
PCC Expedited Review Procedures
The PCC has also adopted expedited merger review procedures, which shorten the PCC’s review period to only 15 working days for qualified transactions.
Qualified transactions include mergers where:
PCC Exemptions from Notification
The PCC has considered internal restructurings to be exempt from notification requirements since 2016, and in 2020 also issued rules to secure an exemption from notification for Unsolicited Projects undertaken by agencies of the national government pursuant to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.
Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) clarification on the determination of the fair market value of shares of stock of companies not listed in the stock exchange
In August 2020, the BIR issued Revenue Regulation No 20-20, which clarified that the determination of the fair market value of shares of stock in companies not listed in the stock exchange shall now be based on the book value of the shares as provided in the Audited Financial Statements (AFS) of the company prior to the date of sale, but not earlier than the immediately preceding taxable year.
This regulation modifies the prior requirement of using the Adjusted Net Asset Method for determining the fair market value of such shares. This development is expected to simplify negotiations over tax provisions in Philippine M&A transactions.
Under Philippine law, there is no centralised regulatory authority governing all aspects of M&A transactions. However, depending on the transaction, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the PCC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) may play a role.
The SEC is the primary regulatory authority for Philippine corporations. Prior approval from the SEC is required for any amendments to a corporation’s articles of incorporation that may be necessitated by a transaction, including the following:
The SEC also oversees the approval of mergers and consolidations, and monitors compliance with nationality restrictions in the applicable industries, as provided under the Foreign Investment Negative List.
The PCC is the government authority primarily responsible for maintaining market competition and regulating anti-competitive conduct. It is responsible for overseeing, regulating and reviewing any anti-competitive aspects relating to mergers, acquisitions and the creation of joint ventures.
Specifically, the PCC has jurisdiction over “acquisitions” that involve the purchase or transfer of securities or assets, through contract or by other means, for the purpose of obtaining control by either:
For such purpose, “control” as defined refers to the ability to substantially influence or direct the actions or decisions of an entity, whether by contract, agency or otherwise. Control is presumed to exist when the acquisition will result in the parent of the acquiring entity owning directly or indirectly, through its subsidiaries, more than half of the voting power of the entity to be acquired. Asset acquisitions that result in an acquiring entity being in a position to replace the acquired entity in at least a part of the relevant business or that allow an acquirer to build up a market presence or develop market access within a reasonably short period of time are also regulated by the PCC.
Establishing the need for compulsory notification
To determine whether a merger/acquisition is subject to compulsory notification with the PCC, the following thresholds must be met:
A PCC review is conducted in two phases. The Phase 1 review lasts for a maximum period of 30 days from complete notification and payment, and involves an assessment to determine if the acquisition raises any competition concerns that would warrant a more detailed review. If no competition concerns are raised, the acquisition may be cleared within the Phase 1 period of review.
If the PCC is unable to conclude that the merger/acquisition does not raise competition concerns after conducting a Phase 1 review, the PCC will provide the merger parties a notice and request for additional information for the purpose of commencing a Phase 2 review. The more detailed inquiry into the transaction during the Phase 2 review shall be completed within 60 days.
The DOJ monitors compliance with Philippine nationality restrictions in applicable industries. The breach of such nationality restrictions is penalised under the Philippine Anti-Dummy Law.
The DOJ also regulates the grant of an authority to employ foreign technical employees in a wholly or partially nationalised trade, business, industry or undertaking, pursuant to the Anti-Dummy Law. It must be noted, however, that foreign employees who seek to work in the Philippines are separately governed by permit and visa requirements as regulated by the Department of Labour and Employment and the Bureau of Immigration, respectively.
Other Regulatory Agencies
Other regulatory approvals may also need to be secured from different regulatory agencies, depending on the nature of the industry of the target company. This may include approvals from the National Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Energy, the Civil Aeronautics Board and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, among others.
Approvals may also need to be secured from the appropriate investment promotion agency, such as the Board of Investments and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, if applicable.
The key areas of focus for the preparation of due diligence reports for equity acquisitions are as follows:
Due diligence is commonly conducted through the review of documents provided in a virtual data room, and may also involve an independent verification of land titles and cases in litigation. Focus is also placed on analysing all prior consents, notifications or approvals that must be complied with prior to the acquisition.
Typically, buyers engage their own legal, financial and operations consultants to conduct due diligence. It is uncommon to rely on due diligence provided by the vendor, even if it is coupled with representations and warranties.
In some cross-border transactions, advisers agree to provide copies of their due diligence report on a reliance basis, albeit imposing a cap on potential liability. More often, when requested, reports are shared only on a non-reliance basis.
In the Philippines, acquisitions of non-publicly listed companies are most commonly carried out through a private agreement for the purchase and sale of shares of stock, negotiated between the seller and the buyer. This private contract allows for the greatest flexibility to negotiate each party’s representations, warranties and any possible indemnity for breach.
However, if the target of an acquisition is under court rehabilitation, the participation of the rehabilitation receiver and the approval of the rehabilitation court is required.
For publicly listed companies, a minimum tender offer is required if any of the requirements detailedin 7.3 Mandatory Offer Thresholds are met.
Acquisitions by privately equity funds are primarily structured through the creation of a special purpose vehicle (SPV). In some instances, the private equity fund is typically involved with local counsel in negotiating the sale documents or conducting due diligence, whether directly or through its international counsel.
In the Philippines, private equity transactions are commonly financed directly by the private equity investor from its own capital. In larger transactions, the deal may be financed through a combination of the private equity investor’s capital and loans from local or foreign banks. If the private equity investor acquires a majority stake in the target company, the assets of the target company may commonly be offered as security for the loan.
However, in the Philippines, it is more common for a private equity fund to hold only a minority stake in the target company.
Deals involving a consortium of private equity sponsors or club deals are not common in the Philippines.
Various consideration structures are common in the Philippine M&A market, including the locked-box, completion accounts and fixed price mechanisms.
Generally, locked-box and fixed price mechanisms are more common in the Philippines. However, M&A transactions with a longer duration between the signing date and the closing date occasionally adopt a completion accounts mechanism to ensure a more accurate valuation of the target company by the closing date. While earn-outs and deferred consideration are occasionally adopted in M&A transactions, such provisions may require active negotiations as they are not common in the Philippines.
For locked-box transactions, leakage protection commonly includes restrictions being imposed on the target company preventing corporate actions outside of the ordinary course of business of the target company, such as the payment of dividends, the grant of bonuses, the pre-payment of loans or the creation of any liens over corporate assets. These restrictions are commonly included as negative covenants by the target company under the pertinent transaction agreement.
Protection levels tend to be similar between transactions involving a private equity-funded buyer and a purely corporate buyer.
In Philippine M&A transactions adopting a locked-box consideration mechanism, it is not common for interest to be charged on leakages. Violations by the target company of its negative covenants designed to prevent leakages are more commonly subject to a specific indemnity provision.
In the Philippines, it is common to have dispute resolution mechanisms in place for resolving disputes relating to the transaction, including consideration-related disputes. Generally, a typical dispute resolution mechanism would include discussions in good faith between the parties to resolve any disputes within a specified period; if the parties fail to reach an agreement on the dispute within the specified period, the dispute may be referred to arbitration.
In certain cases, an intermediary dispute resolution step is added before referral to arbitration. In particular, this step involves submitting the dispute for the resolution of an expert independent third party such as an accounting firm mutually selected by both parties.
It is common for the following matters to be included as conditions precedent for the completion of an M&A transaction in the Philippines:
The completion of financing transactions can also be included as a condition precedent in certain transactions, although it is uncommon.
It is common to have a liquidated indemnity and/or breach provision for any material adverse changes affecting the parties to the transaction.
“Hell or high water” undertakings are uncommon in the Philippines. Regulatory approval-related risks are commonly mitigated by a covenant to file any submissions required for a government regulatory approval within a specified time, and a liquidated indemnity and/or breach provision for failure to comply with such covenant.
Break fees payable by the seller and reverse break fees payable by the buyer are not common in private equity transactions in the Philippines. Under Philippine law, such break fees may be stipulated as liquidated damages to be paid upon breach of the provisions of the agreement pertinent to the M&A transaction.
While the grounds for termination may vary depending on the transaction, it is common for the pertinent M&A transaction documents to stipulate that the private equity seller or buyer may terminate the acquisition agreement upon the occurrence of the following circumstances:
Risk allocation is usually thoroughly negotiated between the seller and the buyer, and depends on specific circumstances surrounding a transaction. Risks identified during the course of the legal due diligence commonly lead to an increase in purchase price, or may in some instances require the inclusion of an indemnity provision requiring the seller to indemnify the buyer in order to cover the risk if the identified risk event is triggered.
The allocation of risk does not generally differ in transactions covering only purely corporate M&A and transactions involving private equity funds.
Generally, representations and warranties for M&A transactions involving private equity funds do not differ significantly from purely corporate M&A. Common representations and warranties include:
Full disclosure of the data room is not common in the Philippines, with exceptions for representations and warranties being carved out through disclosure schedules, when applicable.
Limitations on liability may include caps on indemnity or the introduction of fixed periods for the expiration of certain indemnity provisions. Materiality thresholds may also be introduced before an indemnity provision is triggered.
Apart from the indemnity protections discussed in 6.8 Allocation of Risk and 6.9 Warranty Protection, other protections commonly included in acquisition documentation are a separate specific indemnity for pre-completion tax liabilities and tax liability-related risks. It is generally not common for there to be an escrow account in place from which the indemnity may be drawn.
Warranty and indemnity insurance is not commonly used in Philippine M&A transactions.
Litigation is generally not common in private equity M&A transactions in the Philippines, as the common dispute resolution mechanism provides multiple opportunities for the parties to reach an amicable settlement before resorting to arbitration.
However, the more commonly disputed provisions relate to breaches of covenants, representation and warranties, and indemnification provisions.
There have been some public-to-private transactions recently, but the conversion of publicly listed companies to private companies is not common in the Philippines, given the low number of publicly listed corporations.
Foreign Investment Limitations
The Foreign Investments Negative List provides guidance to potential investors on industries with applicable foreign ownership restrictions, which may range from 0% foreign ownership up to 40% foreign equity. Such restrictions include the following.
A General Information Sheet detailing the shareholding structure of the company is disclosed to the SEC either within seven days of the change in the composition of the board of directors of the company, or within 30 days of the date of the annual meeting of the company.
Publicly Listed Corporations
Disclosure by beneficial owner
Any person who acquires beneficial ownership in 5% of any class of securities of a publicly listed company is required to make a disclosure to the company, the exchange where the security is traded and the SEC within five business days of such acquisition. Such beneficial owner is also required to submit an amendment to his/her disclosure to the company, the exchange and the SEC in the event of any change in the facts set forth in the disclosure.
Disclosures by directors, officers and principal stockholders
Every person who is directly or indirectly the beneficial owner of 10% or more of any class of any security of a publicly listed company or a director or officer of such publicly listed company shall make an appropriate disclosure to the SEC and the exchange in the following circumstances:
Such person shall also be required to notify the SEC when their direct or indirect beneficial ownership falls below 10%, or if they cease to be an officer or director of the company.
Tender offer-related disclosures
Any person or group of persons acting in concert that intends to acquire 15% of equity securities in a public company in one or more transactions within a period of 12 months must file a declaration to that effect with the SEC.
If such person or group of persons acting in concert intends to acquire 35% of equity securities in a public company in one or more transactions within a period of 12 months, a mandatory tender offer (see 7.3 Mandatory Offer Thresholds) shall also be required, in addition to the requirement to file a declaration with the SEC.
Under the Securities Regulation Code and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, any person or group of persons acting in concert is required to make a tender offer if the following thresholds are met.
Private equity M&A transactions in the Philippines commonly require cash as the form of consideration. Shares are typically used as consideration in corporate restructurings or reorganisations that are preliminary to the main M&A deal.
Philippine law does not specifically impose regulations on closing conditions for private equity-backed takeovers; such takeovers are treated in the same manner as regular M&A transactions. The parties have the freedom to stipulate the offer conditions for the takeover, which may involve amendments to the target company’s articles of incorporation and by-laws. The parties are generally free to stipulate security measures such as break fees, match rights and non-solicitation provisions.
In takeovers of publicly listed corporations, it is common to require as a condition precedent that the tender offer process as required by the applicable regulations must first be completed.
Common deal security measures are exclusivity and non-solicitation provisions, although break fees are possible.
In addition to the voting rights acquired by the private equity investor in the target company, the following additional governance rights may be granted to the private equity investor upon the execution of a Shareholders’ Agreement and the amendment of the Articles of Incorporation of the target company:
Minority shareholders may be further diluted through the offering of new primary shares, subject to compliance with pre-emptive rights, where they exist.
In the case of a tender offer required pursuant to an offer to acquire shares directly from one or more shareholders, the execution of a definitive agreement with such shareholders triggers the tender offer process. Such definitive agreements may require the offer to sell the shares to the purchaser to be irrevocable, subject to compliance with the applicable tender offer regulations, if so stipulated.
Philippine law does not regulate or prohibit hostile takeovers of publicly listed companies; such transactions are not common in the Philippines.
Ensuring the retention of high-level managers after an acquisition through equity participation incentives is common in the Philippines. Equity ownership of management varies among companies.
Management participation arrangements are more comment in cross-border deals, where retained management are given an option to acquire shares after a vesting period.
Vesting periods vary among transactions.
In the Philippines, it is not uncommon to require managers and high-level employees to execute agreements with restrictive covenants that become applicable upon their departure from the company. These include non-compete, non-solicitation and non-disparagement undertakings.
However, case law prohibits a non-compete clause that is unduly harsh or oppressive in curtailing the legitimate efforts of an employee to earn a livelihood. Hence, non-compete clauses must be reasonable in their limitations regarding time, trade and place.
Case law has upheld the validity of non-compete clauses with a restriction of up to two years. The non-compete clause must identify only the specific type of business the departing management shareholder is to be restricted from joining. Case law requires that a provision on territorial limitation which must be co-extensive with the business of the company is necessary to guide an employee on what constitutes a violation of the restrictive covenant.
Such restrictive covenants may be enforced by demanding the payment of damages or by seeking injunctive relief from the courts.
It is uncommon to grant minority protection to manager shareholders as such. It is more common to see minority protection for the minority shareholder in an M&A deal. If granted, management shareholders would enjoy the same minority protection rights granted by the Revised Corporation Code to ordinary minority shareholders, which include the following:
Apart from these minority protections, management shareholders may also seek the inclusion of tag-along rights in the applicable Shareholders’ Agreement.
The level of shareholder control will usually depend on the size of the investment of the private equity fund shareholder. However, it is common for private equity funds to provide for the following control provisions to protect their investments:
As a rule, Philippine law adheres to the doctrine of a separate juridical personality, such that the portfolio company is considered to be separate and distinct from its shareholders.
However, according to case law, the corporate veil may be pierced if, based on the totality of circumstances, it can be determined that said veil has been used to shield fraud, defend crime, justify a wrong, defeat public convenience, insulate bad faith or perpetuate injustice.
The imposition of compliance policies depends on the existing compliance policies set in place by the portfolio companies. In certain cases, the compliance policies may be updated by the private equity fund shareholder in order to be aligned with its global policies.
The typical holding period for private equity transactions will depend on the company and may range from three to six years. The most common form of private equity exit is through a purchase and sale of shares through a private agreement. The marketability of the offer to sell the shares of the private equity investor is improved through the exercise of a tag-along or drag-along right, if available.
IPOs and “dual track” exit strategies (involving an M&A sale together with an IPO) are not common in the Philippines; reinvestment by private equity sellers upon exit is also not a common practice in the Philippines.
Shareholders’ agreements involving private equity shareholders and management shareholders will commonly feature drag-along rights as an exit mechanism for the private equity fund. Typically, the threshold for triggering the drag-along right is the sale of a controlling share in the company.
Shareholders’ agreements also grant the private equity shareholder a tag-along right to compel a majority shareholder to sell its shares in the event of the sale of all of the shares held by the private equity fund, improving the marketability of the sale of shares for the private equity fund’s exit from the company.
As an exit strategy, IPOs are not common in the Philippines, considering that only a small number of Philippine corporations are listed under the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) and publicly traded. The greater majority of Philippine corporations are not publicly listed companies.
The PSE’s listing and disclosure rules impose a lock-up period ranging from 180 to 365 days for shareholders holding at least 10% of the issued and outstanding shares of stock in a company seeking to be listed with the PSE.