Why did Manny Villar back out of the third telco race?
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2018 - 12:00am

It is almost noon in a quaint and cozy coffee shop in Makati, the one where ladies’ bikes hang on wooden ceilings, verdant plants abound and where the trash bin will remind you of your ex lover. 

The smell of freshly brewed coffee is wafting in the air.

Tycoon Manny Villar, casual in dark blue jeans and his trademark jacket, suddenly walks in the particular room where I am seated. It’s not exactly surprising. Villar after all owns the place, The Coffee Project along Leviste street. It is one of dozens and dozens of Coffee Projects around the country. 

His eldest son Paolo has just finished giving journalists a press briefing on Vista Land’s rosy nine-month results. 

Manny “MBV” Villar joins the table. 

I get excited. I’m raring to ask him the million-dollar question: Why did he back out of the third telco race after all the trouble?

It’s a curious case. After all his company had just secured a national franchise and his pal, President Duterte, recently signed it into law. 

“So, why did you back out?” I ask him.

He smiles an enigmatic smile. 

“Wala akong pera,” he says in jest. 

It’s a big joke, of course. And the Forbes-listed billionaire — the second richest in the Philippines, according to the 2018 list — says so. 

“There are many reasons,” he says. 

“Number one reason?” I ask him.

“Secret,” MBV says jokingly again.

Everyone laughs.

Number two reason?” I press on.

“Secret.”

More laughter. 

Turning serious, MBV explains that they really just wanted to focus on the company’s internal expansion, which is to provide fixed broadband services to homeowners of the various residential communities the Villar Group has developed and eventually, beyond these areas.

The franchise was not really for a third telco play, he says.

Paolo adds that in order to offer nationwide broadband services, it’s much easier to get a national franchise.

Thus, Streamtech, the Villar-owned company would be able to spread broadband outside Metro Manila faster with the appropriate franchise, Paolo adds.

They plan to have a full roll out next year in Mega Manila, but they are already in some areas now. 

But why did they try to vie for the third telco in the first place?

“We looked at the third telco as a possibility, but at the current version of the offering, of the bidding, it wasn’t a good fit for us. Based on what was in the bid and what the government was offering it was not a good fit for us at this time,” Paolo explains. 

Asked if they are willing to work with whoever would be declared winner, Paolo says yes. 

“Yes, absolutely. We can definitely offer a lot of values. If it’s in line with their strategy and it makes sense, we’re willing to partner with anyone,” he says.

On that day, Nov. 7, and on that hour, the bidding was still ongoing. 

The Department of Information and Communications (DICT) would later declare the Dennis Uy-led consortium as the country’s provisional third telco player after two other groups were disqualified. 

What’s next for MBV’s empire after backing out of the third telco race? 

MBV says there are many things to look forward to with the rest of the businesses steadily growing. 

He remains optimistic on the business environment, saying that it’s all good. From Coffee Projects, to homes, to malls, to supermarkets, to death care, and soon to the broadband business, Villar’s empire is indeed going strong.

They also plan to open a mall in Davao next year. 

Why did Dennis Uy of Pampanga backout?

Now that the Villars have elaborated on their reasons for backing out of the third telco race, I wonder too why Dennis Uy of Pampanga, considered as a serious contender, backed out of the race.

There’s no lack of conspiracy theories in the grapevine. Some sources claim that he was asked to back out.

I haven’t met him and have no chance of asking him, but they explained their reason in the statement they issued. 

Conditions for their participation are “commercially unviable,” they said in a joint statement. Their consortium is composed of Converge ICT and its partners, KT Corp and Teltech. 

They said the prospective third telco is “required to incur an inordinate amount of funds and carry out commitments at a pace that is not required of the current dominant service providers.”

Davao’s Dennis Uy: Give us a chance

As of this writing, controversies are mounting with the disqualified bidders calling for a rebidding. 

But Dennis Uy of Davao tells me over the weekend that their consortium should be given a chance to prove that they can provide better services. 

We’ll have to wait and see how this would end. 

For now, the telco-serye continues. Let’s stay tuned. Don’t even wink.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com 

DENNIS UY DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS MANNY VILLAR THIRD TELCO RACE
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