Chew on the other foot
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), for whatever reason, is taking a long time to decide on the rehabilitation case of the bleeding Bayantel Telecom of the Lopez group.
For the sake of our senators who are busy investigating just one building in this traffic hell called Metro Manila and some farm about 200 kilometers away from the metropolis, the woes of Bayantel in its rehab bid started more than a year ago.
In October last year, Bayantel sought the approval of NTC for a rehab plan that Bayantel hatched with Globe Telecom, which belonged to the Ayala group. Globe was supposed to convert into equity some $114 million of Bayantel’s debts, which would make Globe 57-percent owner of Bayantel. Both Globe and Bayantel previously received the nod of a regional trial court for the rehab plan.
More than a year passed, but Globe and Bayantel were still at the spot when they first went to the NTC—still waiting. Really, regarding their rehab application with the NTC, the two seemed to be running hard just to stay in the same place.
In comparison, about six years ago, the giant PLDT acquired—as in “lock stock and barrel”—a company called CURE (Connectivity Unlimited Resources Enterprise), which used to operate the “Red Mobile” brand, from a group headed by a man with a familiar name, former Trade Minister Roberto Ongpin, who also previously sealed multibillion-peso deals with the group controlling PLDT, Metro Pacific of Manuel V. Pangilinan.
That was in 2008, and it was still the time of the cute administration of Gloriaetta. Surprise—the NTC approved the PLDT deal with the group of Ongpin in record time of just seven months.
In fairness, however, NTC did want to start the “hearing” on the Globe-Bayantel rehab case right away. It was just that the giant PLDT—plus another telecom in the MVP group, none other than Digitel—objected to the NTC’s act of scheduling a “hearing.”
Down here in my barangay, we all thought that, precisely, it was the job of the NTC to conduct hearings on cases involving the telecom sector. PLDT and its wards did not want NTC to do its job—was that it?
It turned out that the “oppositors” to the Bayantel rehab—PLDT and others also under PLDT—claimed that the NTC itself did not have the power to hear the case. Why? Well, Bayantel was supposed to get the approval for the rehab plan from a rather busy Congress, investigation in aid of legislation such things as a parking building in Makati.
The “opposition” to the Bayantel rehab centered on a claim that Congress issued the “franchise” of Bayantel, and because Globe would get to own 57-percent of Bayantel under the court-approved rehab, they would have to ask Congress for permission.
It did not matter that, actually, Bayantel would still exist as a separate and distinct corporation—meaning, nothing would happen to its “franchise” whatsoever—you know, not even a small tick of a scratch.
The shoe suddenly seemed to be on the other foot because, in a similar case involving PLDT some years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the “transfer of shares” in a telecom needed only the NTC’s approval, not congressional authorization.
From what I gathered, the “opposition” (i.e., PLDT and the other telecoms under it) used all sorts of tactics seemingly to delay the NTC hearing on the Bayantel rehab, chewing every move of the NTC, filing motions here and there, together with motions for reconsideration, and counter affidavits that were followed by more “counters” to the “counters.”
When the NTC decided that enough was enough, and that it would have to hear the Bayantel rehab case, the interest of the giant PLDT was clearly at stake when the Court of Appeals (CA) recently issued a restraining order against the NTC hearing.
In their press statements, Bayantel and Globe of course had to call for the dismissal of what they called the “PLDT inspired case” before the CA for “utter lack of merit.”
Globe itself described the case as PLDT just pushing its “bully’s agenda” because, one reason cited for the issuance of the TRO (temporary restraining order), was the claim of PLDT that the NTC should have followed certain procedures, although it would seem that the NTC procedures were actually up to the NTC.
More importantly, however, Globe and Bayantel told the CA that the rehab would not result in a merger between Globe and Bayantel, which PLDT claimed before the NTC and the CA would result in “unfair competition,” and all that monopolistic jingo that the guys down here in my barangay used to accuse PLDT of perpetuating.
But let us say that the Globe-Bayantel tie-up would mean that the two companies could share their “frequencies” used in mobile telephony. Together, their frequencies would account for only 30 percent of the total.
And what about PLDT and its minions? Well, these poor crying babies have only about 50 percent of the frequencies!
Now Bayantel has been in distress for more than 13 years now, as it already defaulted on its loan payments. Under the court-approved rehab plan, Globe would convert some $114 million of Bayantel debts into equity, thus getting those debts out of the way. This means that Bayantel could have some funds ploughed back into the business for new equipment and such.
That should only be good for competition in the telecom industry.
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