MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of workers were terminated by a telecommunications service provider that never even began transmitting signals in the first place.
"Your last day of service to the company will be on July 31, 2016," read an excerpt of the termination letter handed out to over 160 staff members of Bell Telecommunication Philippines, Incorporated (BellTel) on Wednesday, June 29.
As of September 2015, San Miguel Corporation hired over 400 consultants to help the conglomerate launch a 3rd major telecommunications player through its unit, BellTel. (READ: The other side of San Miguel's telco buyout)
Ramon Ang, chairman of San Miguel, had said the supposed 3rd player will compete against the country's two telecommunications giants – PLDT Incorporated and Globe Telecom Incorporated – with or without a foreign partner.
But a few months after, the public was taken by surprise after San Miguel sold all its telecommunications businesses to PLDT and Globe for $1.5 billion.
'We felt cheated'
Because of the change in business direction, all 400 consultants under BellTel will lose their jobs by September this year. (READ: San Miguel's sale of telco business: Will consumers benefit?)
"We are disappointed. We felt cheated. San Miguel promised us stable jobs once it launches the 3rd major telco player under BellTel," one of the terminated consultants told Rappler in an interview.
"They asked for our commitment, so we gave up our stable jobs and worked for a telco that never even started operations. We are heartbroken," the consultant, who requested anonymity, said.
After doing due diligence, PLDT and Globe said they decided not to extend the contracts of the over 400 workers anymore, as BellTel has "no operations and no customers."
"The discussion was all based on the functions. If we are not selling, what is the point of retaining personnel?" PLDT spokesperson Ramon Isberto told Rappler in an interview.
"All contracts were respected. Their contracts are only valid until September this year. We are surprised that 99% of BellTel are consultants, not regular employees," he added.
Globe spokesperson Yoly Crisanto felt the same way.
"It was quite surprising to find out that majority of the manpower in the various San Miguel companies are contracted only until September this year," she told Rappler via a mobile phone reply.
Rappler sought Ang's comment, but the San Miguel chief has yet to reply. (READ: Liberty Telecoms to delist from PSE after San Miguel telco buyout)
Ang, however, had said before that the move was made for the betterment of the public.
"This is a sacrifice we have to make to finally unlock the full potential of our high-quality, mobile broadband spectrum faster and allow consumers access to its benefits through the combined resources, network and expertise of the two carriers," he said in an earlier statement.
Supposed competitive products
The $1.5-billion acquisition deal also gave PLDT and Globe access to the 700 megahertz (MHz) spectrum that regulators had assigned to San Miguel's telco business.
The 700 MHz frequency was then used by the two telcos to put up more cell sites nationwide in a "more affordable and faster way."
But another source familiar with the ditched plans and products under BellTel told Rappler that more than 700 cell towers "that produced crystal clear voice calls were turned off."
In 2010, BellTel acquired through Vega 197 base transceiver stations in Metro Manila.
"All that they have built will be dismantled. Contractors will be paid only a fraction of the value of their work," the source said.
Globe legal counsel Froilan Castelo had told Rappler that the two telcos are still in the process of assessing the infrastructure.
"Yes, San Miguel 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 early this month, without confirming the exact count of cell sites.
The source said if PLDT and Globe did not acquire San Miguel's telco business, the latter would have launched products that are more competitive than the two giants.
"We were supposed to launch products that are really competitive. Imagine P150 for one month of unlimited calls and text, no capping Internet access at 20 mbps for only P1,500, and P1 for IDD calls," the source from Vega told Rappler.
A job fair for all
In the case of the 400 consultants of BellTel, PLDT and Globe said they set up a job fair in their head office in Pasig City to assist them in getting new jobs.
"We initiated a job fair today and tomorrow (Thursday, June 30) to provide employment opportunities to the consultants of various San Miguel companies who are under contract. This way, they can join the regular talent pool of Globe subject to our standard hiring process," Globe's Crisanto said.
PLDT’s Isberto said laying off consultants under BellTel will be done in two batches: one on July 30 and another in September.
"The first batch of consultants, which is over 160, was served notice today. We will comply with the terms of their contract and give them until July 30. For the second batch, which is over 240 contractuals, their services will be needed until September," Isberto told Rappler.
Some of the consultants regard this experience as a "tragedy."
"Hundreds of workers were immediately hurt by this action and many thousands of people will never benefit from the employment and prosperity BellTel was supposed to bring them," said a BellTel source who requested anonymity. – Rappler.com