The other side of San Miguel's telco buyout

MANILA, Philippines – San Miguel Corporation, the country’s most diversified conglomerate, employed over 900 workers for its telecommunications subsidiary, Vega Telecom, before it sold all its assets to PLDT Incorporated and Globe Telecom Incorporated.

"Vega Telecom, through its subsidiaries, has over 900 warm bodies. This is composed of a mixture of employees, consultants, and project hires," Vina Gonzaga, Vega human resource head, told Rappler when asked for a manpower count.

Vega Telecom is the parent company of Bell Telecommunication Philippines (BellTel), Eastern Telecommunications Philippines, Cobaltpoint Telecommunication (formerly Extelcom), Tori Spectrum Telecommunication (formerly Wi-Tribe), as well as Hi- Frequency Telecommunication.

Despite the botched partnership with Telstra Corporation, San Miguel was expected to launch its mobile services through BellTel this year. (READ: San Miguel's sale of telco business: Will consumers benefit?)

"Our old bosses asked us to meet short deadlines to complete projects for the third major player under BellTel, so we were working our asses off. When that deal broke off, we panicked. But San Miguel assured us that we will still launch with or without a partner; and that we will still keep our job," a Vega employee who requested anonymity told Rappler.

Uncertainty

But a month after talks with Telstra collapsed, San Miguel gave up its telecom dreams by agreeing to a P69.1-billion deal with PLDT and Globe to buy out all of its telco businesses. (READ: PLDT, Globe sign IP peering)

"We were all shocked. There were people who cried because they gave up their previous jobs with the hopes of being part of the launch of a third major telco player. We were very hopeful about it until we heard of the buyout deal," the Vega employee said.

Now, 900 Vega workers face uncertainty as they await the verdict of their new bosses. Will they be asked to stay or go? 

TRANSITION. PLDT and Globe have already sent their transition team in Vega's headquarters in Pasig City. Photo by Chrisee Dela Paz/Rappler

TRANSITION. PLDT and Globe have already sent their transition team in Vega's headquarters in Pasig City.

Photo by Chrisee Dela Paz/Rappler

"Yes, our transition team and that of Globe are already there. They will be studying the networks there. But the focus now is to use all the spectrums, not just the 700 megahertz, in a bid to improve our service," Pangilinan said on the sidelines of an event in Makati City on June 13.

He had some words of hope – though not yet final – for the Vega employees. "The decision, for now, is to keep them," Pangilinan said.

The PLDT chairman, however, did not say if PLDT and Globe will still honor contractual agreements made under the San Miguel leadership.

Such an assurance is not enough ease the anxiety of another Vega worker, who also asked not to be named. 

"A lot of us are contractuals who came from the competitors (PLDT and Globe). Of course, they won’t let us in anymore there after transferring to the supposed 3rd major player. Yes, the transition team is here, but we haven't heard a word from them on our employment. Are we still going to be employed or will it be a severance package? We don’t know yet," the worker said.

The worker said that they only knew about the deal when it was reported by the media on May 31. This was "followed by a short town hall but without entertaining questions."

Globe legal counsel Froilan Castelo said of the workers' fate, "There is no final decision yet, but we will do our best to keep as much as possible."

Possible duplicity in cell sites

In April, BellTel informed the National Telecommunications Commission that it sealed contracts with software contractors for the establishment of a mobile telecommunications network.

In 2010, BellTel acquired through Vega 197 base transceiver stations in Metro Manila.

But a source from Vega who requested anonymity told Rappler that Vega had already built more than 700 cell towers in Greater Manila.

The source, who is familiar with the matter, said Vega had already installed more than 500 base stations in these towers.

Asked if these figures are accurate, Globe’s Castelo said he cannot confirm the exact count of cell sites already built by San Miguel. 

"Yes, they already rolled out base stations. These were the legacy sites of the old Liberty Telecoms. We will look into that if it is still beneficial for us. It could be duplicity of current cell sites," Castelo said.

He added that the two telecommunications giants are still in the process of assessing San Miguel’s telco businesses.

"We really need to study the network itself. But for now, we’re going to use the spectrum. We have yet to assess it. We will see. We have our own network plans," Castelo said. – Rappler.com