Information on Mel Velasco Velarde
by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication
Mel Velasco Velarde started working at the age of eight, when he was appointed assistant press photographer for the 1971-1972 Philippine Constitutional Convention. He assisted his ailing father, Meliton R. Velarde, who suffered a debilitating nerve atrophy that started around the time Mel was born and caused blindness, first on the left eye then the right.
The elder Velarde was the official press photographer of the Constitutional Convention headed by Diosdado Macapagal, a former Philippine President.
A former amateur boxer in the 1950s, Meliton shifted his craft to photography and put up the Velarde Studio in 1959, a husband and wife enterprise of both Meliton and Amparo. When Mel was born in 1963, he taught his son to take pictures starting with tinkering on cameras as baby toys; his mother assisted in training him to print pictures at the darkroom; Mel could take and print pictures at age 4. Mel at age 8 was awarded a plaque of recognition as “The World’s Youngest Professional Photographer,” handed to him by Supreme Court Justice Felix Makasiar. While in grade school and high school, Mel helped run the Velarde Studio at Enrico Hotel, taught photography during weekends, opened another studio at Malate Manila,
and was elected Secretary-General of the Professional Photographers’ Association of the Philippines (PPAP) at the age of 15. At age 11, he was a national Chess and Games of the General finalist, and national Siege game champion. During summers, he studied guitar, piano and fine art drawing.
Young Mel would read magazines and newspapers for his father daily and became an avid reader of books of all sorts. A consistent honor student, Mel’s academic excellence was put to test in a quiz bee show on national television, the Spin-A-Win, on Channel 9 in 1978; this live TV competition was participated weekly by bright high school students who were tested in science, current events and other academic subjects. Mel won as national champion and brought home the grand prize, a brand-new Toyota Corolla, 1978 model. He drove it around school for a day, then sold it at P45,000 pesos, gave P40,000 to his parents for medical bills, rent for the house and the studio business. With the remaining P5,000 pesos, he bought a second-hand Volkswagen beetle.
Later on, Mel at 19 was chosen to represent his country as Chair of the Philippine delegation to the 1983 International Youth Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Not having enough money to pay for his travel ticket to the US, Mel found a way to convince Mr. Leslie Espino, Executive Vice President of Philippine Airlines, to pay for his trip on a promise that he will come back and serve his country. Mr. Espino gave him 50% discount on a two-way ticket to the U.S. With enough personal savings and funds from friends and family, Mel flew to America.
At the United Nations conference, Mel became the leader of 110 youth leaders who represented their respective countries and pushed for greater youth participation in the affairs of the United Nations. After his UN stint, Mel was accepted as a SERVAS exchange student at Princeton, New Jersey and went to live in the house of Dr. Earl Simon, a top American eye doctor. This was most opportune time for Mel’s ailing father; it was Dr. Simon who directed Mel to send his father to a Los Angeles-based expert on low vision ophthalmology. Mel aimed to attain financial success early to afford the needed medical solution for his father’s eyes and send money back home for his family’s survival.
While studying and working in the US, he joined the political exile movement, Movement for a Free Philippines, headed by former Senator Raul Manglapus and became head of the youth group of the movement and later on, the National Union of Christian Democrats. After Martial Law ended in the Philippines and People Power ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Mel returned to his homeland, became campaign manager of Raul Manglapus for the Senate in the 1987 elections, and became President of the Filipino Youth Party.
Photography was the starting point from where Mel’s competencies evolved into the field of technology, media, and telecommunications in the next 20 years. His enterprise enabled him to support his family of five as breadwinner and provide for the education for his siblings.
In Asia, Mel is known for a number of accomplishments:
1. He led the day-to-day business development and operations of Sky Cable, which became the largest cable TV company in the Philippines from 1991 to 1997. For his achievements in Sky Cable, he was recognized in the Annual “The Best of the Philippines” Publication as one of eight Filipinos considered “the Best of the Philippines in the Field of Corporate Leadership and Entrepreneurship” in 1993. At the end of 1997, Mel monetized his shares in Sky; other minority shareholders such as Sun Hung Kai of Hongkong and Tesoro family also sold thier shares in Sky Cable and earned 5.3 times their investment over a 5 year investment horizon. His sterling performance in organizing and operating Sky Cable earned him the recognition as one of the top corporate entrepreneurs in the Philippines. Then President Fidel Ramos tapped Mel as his personal Technology adviser.
2. In 1999, Mel established his own holdings firm Velarde Inc. (VI), which he utilized as his investment vehicle in most of his undertakings. Through VI, he acquired Altimax Broadcasting in 1999 and transformed it into a Broadband Internet business by operating Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) two-way service and Multi-point Microwave Distribution Service (MMDS).
Altimax was the first to establish in 1999 a two-way satellite broadband Internet in the Philippines by delivering Internet signal from the US Mainland to the Philippine Islands via a satellite hub in Napa Valley and Hawaii using Pacific satellites as transmission vehicles. As part of his grand plan, he chose the MMDS frequencies to re-transmit the satellite signals via terrestrial microwave to and from Philippine homes, schools, government, and private customers. However, his vision was ahead of its time since the corresponding MMDS equipment was yet to be commercialized. His plan was always subject to expensive customization.
Mel, however, found ways to partner with US tech firms such as Remec, AML, and Intel which were determined to act as first movers in developing wireless equipment. From 2003 to 2005, a new global wireless technology revolution called WIMAX was emerging. The global technology community, through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and led by US firm INTEL, decided to adopt the MMDS band as the standard WIMAX frequency, later on became LTE. Giant Intel surprised the international community when it launched the most revolutionary wireless broadband service all over the world; Mel and his company were Intel’s partner in the Philippines.
Intel would develop, manufacture and embed computer chips, the core engine of computers and mobile phones that will operate on the MMDS band. In December 2008, Altimax was acquired by Globe Telecoms, a leading cellular and full service telecom company. VI still owns a 14% equity stake in Altimax while the rest is owned by the Ayala family and Singtel of Singapore.
3. In 2002, Mel, aged 38, engineered the management buy-out of Nextel Communications Philippines, Inc. (NCPI), a US$200 M dollar investment of US Nextel International, Inc. (NII). This was about six months before NII filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. NCPI was later named Next Mobile. Restructuring the company while focusing on mission-critical communications of targeted industries such as logistics, transportation, government, and other highly mobile enterprises, Mel transformed this ailing company: from negative P11 Billion in equity to postive P3 Billion, and for the first time generate a net income of P20M. Josie Lichauco, former ITU President and Secretary of Communications wrote an article about Mel entitled “Re-engineering a Failure into a Success.”
4. Mel acquired in 2005 a Philippine listed company named Cashrounds, which was renamed “Information Capital Technology Ventures” or (ICTV). In December 2008 and June 2009, the Philippine Stock Exchange officially approved the listing of 1.3 Billion ICTV shares at the par price of P1 peso. ICTV is now named NOW Corporation.
5. In 2009, Mel received the Top Taxpayer Award for 2009 from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) after his company, Velarde Inc., was recognized by the BIR as Top ONETT Taxpayer for Revenue Region No. 8, having made the highest tax payment for 2009. The Top ONETT Taxpayer Award is given to an entity that paid the highest amount of tax for a ‘one time transaction.’ BIR Revenue Region 8 covers the Philippine cities of includes Pasay, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Las Pinas, Taguig, Pateros and Makati, the country’s financial capital.
In sum, Mel emerged as one of the most successful Filipino entrepreneurs in less than ten years, counting the years since he established Velarde, Inc. in 1999. VI focused on founding, buying, transforming, and selling or operating companies in the TMT (technology, media and telecommunications) space.
He did not start from scratch — in fact, from enormous negatives. Mel shares: “Burdensome social and political inequalities were suffered by my parents and their parents’ parents, who collectively have been denied of access to equitable opportunities that are requisite to social and financial mobility.” Mel captured these realities early on and they stucked deep in his psyche and had pledged to spend a whole lifetime reversing them for himself, his family and others. Indeed, though born to a family that carried enormous social, physical, and financial disabilities, he found ways to rise above them and used them as motivations to help his family survive and succeed. But the accomplishment he is proudest to share has something to do with his father’s ailment.
At 24, while working at KTLA Channel 5 News as News Director-trainee under Jeff Wald and celebrated TV anchorman Hal Fishman, Mel brought his family to the US and gave his father the medical rehabilitation he needed. After one year of daily exercises using thick glasses for low vision patients, his father began to walk on his own with a “silhouette” vision.
For the term 2003-2010, the Philippine government appointed Mel Philippine Commissioner to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations) and his peers elected him Chairman of UNESCO Committee on Science and Technology, taking the place of Father Bienvenido Nebres, who offered Mel the position.
In November of 2014, upon the suggestion of Mel’s friend, The Honorable Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court, Mel acquired thru an auction at Sotheby’s London the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map, the holy grail of Philippine cartography. Costing about P 12 Million pesos as final Hammer Price from the auction, this map shows the islands and rocks of the Spratleys as Bajo de Paragua and Scarborough Shoal as Bajo de Masinloc – the latter is the subject of a maritime arbitration case at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This map is evidence of our historical rights over those islands and rocks in the West Philippine Seas. Mel decided to donate this 1734 Murillo Velarde Map to the National Museum so that the Filipino Youth would be able to trace his roots and feel proud for being a Filipino. The map will arrive from London, UK in June or July of 2016.
In late 2015, Mel launched NOW Cable Broadband and NOWplanet TV, the Telecom, Media and Technology (TMT) products and services of his company, NOW Corporation, a listed company in the Philippine Stock Exchange (ticker name:NOW), url: www.nownetwork.ph.NOW has a current market capitalization of P 3.3 Billion pesos.
As for Mel’s education, his studies after high school were always interrupted by family concerns, financial challenges and frequent relocations. He practically sent himself to college, or rather, colleges and universities. Despite these issues, he managed to pursue various academic interests and completed the programs he was most passionate about and, up to now, still continues his adventures for higher learning as much as for technology businesses. While completing his bachelor and masters degrees, he took tons of executive education courses that related to earning and enhancing his living — using empirical knowledge as his turbo-charging weapon to continuous success. Like his whole life, Mel’s education is varied, intense and colorful — but always in pursuit of excellence.
He attended college at the Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines Diliman, University of San Francisco and completed his Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree, Major in Interdisciplinary Studies (Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences). Mel graduated with a near perfect GPA of 3.9, which earned him the highest Latin Honor of Summa Cum Laude from Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. His other collegiate studies include Digital Cinematography, Film Production and Film Editing (12 College semestral units) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Film School, Los Angeles, California, and Contemporary Art (4 College semestral units) at Brandeis University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
He took the following Post-Graduate and Masters Level Programs: Masters in Business Economics at the University of Asia and the Pacific (thesis writing); eMBA (Owners Presidents Management program) at Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and International Human Rights Law (Summer Course) at Oxford University, Oxford, England.
He also took the following Executive Education courses and Professional Certified Training Programs: Wealth Management at Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvannia; Strategic Finance, University of Michigan; Corporate Restructuring and Business Transformation at Harvard Business School; Digital Marketing at Harvard Business School; Managing Businesses in China, Tsinhua University and Harvard Business School; and Directing Documentaries at the London School of Film and Television; Broadcasting and Cable Television, Satellite Communications, Data and Internet Communications at the United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI), Washington D.C. USA; Data and Satellite Communications (Tel Aviv, Israel); Packet Data and Mobile Technology (Amman, Jordan); Multimedia Authoring (Des Moines, Iowa); CDi Development and Technology (Eindhoven, Netherlands); Cybersecurity: Planning, Implementing and Auditing of Critical Security Controls (SANS, Washington D.C.); Advanced and Competitive Sailing Certifications at the Swain Sailing School at Tortola, the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Caribbean.
Mel is also Chairman of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication and Chairman of Christian Social Democratic Union (CSDU), a coalition of educators, professionals and entrepreneurs dedicated to propagate Christian Social Democratic ideals as core ideology for the Philippines to aspiring and incumbent public servants.
Mel is 52 years old. He is an avid sailor, a renaissance man and a world traveler who relishes taking courses around the globe, nurtures relationships with diverse communities and explores the world’s many wonders. He works in Manila and spends weekends at his home at Bellavista, Peninsula de Punta Fuego, Nasugbu, Batangas: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.380079762473.193713.371588902473&type=3.