Business

Bukas luluhod ang mga tala: Ex-Sky Cable GM Mel Velarde licking chops over ABS-CBN TV, radio frequencies; but is he buying or flipping?

Bilyonaryo Mel Velarde is reportedly making a bid to scoop up the highly-coveted television and radio channels previously owned by his former employer, the Lopez family of ABS-CBN.

Multiple Babblers have reported that Velarde, a losing bidder for the third telco franchise, has already filed an application to take over DZMM 630 and MOR 101.9 radio frequencies and was poised to make a bid for Channels 2 and 23 (under AMCARA Broadcasting Network) through his publicly-listed firm, NOW Corp.

Babblers reveal that Velarde is banking on his ties to the Duterte administration, as a leverage in the scamble for ABS-CBN’s frequencies.

Velarde is a godfather to one of the children of presidential daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and her husband, abogado Manases “Mans” R. Carpio.

Mans’ father, abogado Lucas Carpio Jr., the brother of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and cousin of Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

(As a side note, Velarde is proud of being the winning bidder for the 2014 Sotheby’s London auction of the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map, a centerpiece in the West Philippine Sea crusade of Antonio, the founder of The Firm, Carpio Villaraza & Cruz Law Offices.)

Velarde’s pursuit of the ABS-CBN frequencies is both for personal and business reasons.

He has a decades-old score to settle with ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez who forced him into retirement “due to problems which accumulated through time.” Velarde, who started out as ABS-CBN News director, was founder and GM of Sky Cable from 1991 to 1997. The breakup led to an acrimonious court battle.

Instead of giving Velarde compensation, Gabby demanded that Velarde pay for a P10 million loan his father, Geny Lopez, gave Velarde in 1997 and other unliquidated advances that have piled up since 1995.

Velarde countersued by dragging Gabby’s father, (who died of cancer in 1999), as respondent in a case where he sought over P100 million in retirement benefits and unpaid salaries.

Based on court records, Velarde claimed that the supposed loan agreement was just a “cover document” to reward him for his loyalty and excellent performance as GM and that “the payment, if any was expected, was in the form of continued service.” The Supreme Court junked Velarde’s case versus Geny in 2004.

More than two decades after getting kicked out of the cable company he founded, Velarde has a chance to get sweet revenge over Gabby after his family’s media empire failed to renew its franchise which expired on May 4.

But some Babblers are doubtful whether Velarde wants to build a media empire under NOW (which has a market capitalization of P3.3 billion) in view of his track record of hoarding and flipping assets to the highest bidder.

A year after his bitter exit from ABS-CBN, Velarde formed his eponymous investment firm with Altimax Broadcasting (and its digital frequencies) as its first acquisition. In 2008, Velarde made a windfall after he sold 86 percent of Altimax to Globe Telecom which used it as its platform to penetrate mobile TV.

Some Babblers believe Velarde is doing the same Altimax play in the 5G mobile communication technology race.

NOW plans to compete with the telco big boys in offering 5G (10 times faster than the current 4G) following the upgrade in its cellular mobile telephony system (CMTS) license, which it claimed made it the country’s fourth telco player after Smart, Globe and Dito.

In February 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 10972 which granted NOW a franchise “to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain, lease, purchase, and carry on the business of providing telecommunications including electronic communications and electronic communications services throughout the Philippines, between the Philippines and other countries and other territories, including outer space for public domestic and international telecommunications.”

The franchise also allowed NOW “to construct, establish, install, maintain, lease, purchase, and operate the corresponding transmitting and receiving stations, satellites, lines, systems, network, local gateways, domestic exchanges and platforms.”

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