By Neil Jerome C. Morales (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines - Starmalls Inc., the mall and office leasing unit of the Villar family, is looking to borrow as much as P5 billion from banks this year to support its mall expansion program.

The shopping mall group is also looking to sell shares next year potentially to its Thai partner, its top official said.

"We have a stockholders' equity of P19 billion and no debts. I think the logical thing to do is to borrow maybe up to about P4 billion to P5 billion initially and then we can go to equity offering," Starmalls chairman Sen. Manuel B. Villar said.

"We've lined up more malls... Starmalls has seven now plus another five new malls," Villar said.

Starmalls, formerly Polar Property Holdings Corp., has shopping centers in Mandaluyong, Taguig, Daang Hari, Imus in Cavite, Sta. Rosa in Laguna, San Jose del Monte in Bulacan and Cebu.

"The next batch will be in Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Malolos and Davao Oriental," Villar said.

Last year, Starmalls said it is spending P15 billion to expand its malls nationwide in the next five years, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao.

To secure additional capital, Villar said Starmalls is looking to sell shares next year.

Villar said prominent Thai mall developer Land & House, which owns an 11-percent stake in Starmalls, is a potential buyer for the planned follow-on offering.

So far, Starmalls' public float is above the 10 percent required by the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Last year, Starmalls transferred its shares in residential builder Vista Land & Lifescapes to Villar-owned Fine Properties Inc.

"We want to be a pure player in leasing like malls and hotels," Villar said, adding that it also includes Starmalls leading the expansion of business process outsourcing office space.

Last year, Polar Property and Manuela Corp., both controlled by the Villar family, merged their resources and operations via a share-swap transaction.

Manuela opened its first shopping mall in Las Piñas City in 1979 and three other malls between 1982 and 1996: Starmall Las Piñas Annex, Starmall EDSA in Mandaluyong and Starmall Alabang in Muntinlupa. However, it was forced to undergo corporate rehabilitation following the Asian financial crisis.

In 2008, the Villar family took over the management of Manuela, which exited corporate rehabilitation last year.