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Posted By : jeffrey infante | Posted : August 22, 2014


PLAYBOY:  You’ve been credited as the man who made GMA number one.  What can you say about that?

GOZON:  For close to seventeen years, Philippine Television was dominated by the other station with all its programs dominating the rating charts.  For example, our ratings in the 1990’s were just about 1/4 the other station.  Our net income then was only about 10% of theirs. When I took over as president and CEO in October 2000, I was not happy to discover that the management and staff were contented with GMA just being no. 2 in both ratings and revenues.  GMA was also doing well but it was a very poor number two then.

I wanted GMA to be the no. 1 television station in the country and I knew that we could do it if we only tried.  But we needed to change our ways.  I had to change the defeatist culture of the people in GMA. And this involved changing the way we did things and investing in infrastructure.  I emphasized transparency, efficiency, integrity, competence, innovation and excellence.  Now, we are No. 1.



PLAYBOY:  What’s next for GMA?

GOZON:  We continue to expand our presence in the international market through our GMA Pinoy TV and GMA Life TV.  In the Philippines, we have been upgrading our facilities in the provinces to improve the reach of our signal and clarity of the reception of our programs.  Very soon, we will be inaugurating our new building that houses two state-of-the-art studios that will allow us to execute a broader base of program concepts that will further increase the value and diversity of our programs.  These will be the most modern studio facilities in the country. QTV is growing stronger.  We are also working on a product that leverages on advancements in IP technology which will eventually provide access to our high value programming via the internet.

We are also going to establish an academy of performing arts for our talents and others as we continue to focus on the development of the GMA Artist Center as our primary talent source and a vehicle for molding the most promising faces in the industry.



PLAYBOY:  What was your first job?

GOZON:  My first job was as Private Secretary to the then Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources who happened to be my father (that was after I took the bar examinations in 1962 and while waiting to be accepted in Yale Law School).  Among others, I reviewed the final drafts of decisions forwarded to the Office of the Secretary for signature.

There, I noticed that the messenger who delivered the papers from the Legal Department to the Office of the Secretary was wearing the expensive “Banlon” T shirts ( I could afford to have only one or two of them then).  I also heard “rumors” that some people were making money from the parties to the cases decided by the Secretary.  I suspected that these people perhaps were claiming that they had something to do with the decision on a particular case, but it was very hard to prove who was or were making money.  Because of this suspicion, I changed the recommended decision in one case where the facts and the law warranted such change and asked my father not to inform anybody before releasing the same and he did as I asked.



PLAYBOY:  Did you have a colorful childhood?

GOZON:  Looking back, I think I had a happy childhood although I had four accidents that almost cost my life…  When I was about three years old, I fell in a small well in the yard of my grandparents and also at another time in a machine of the Malabon Sugar Factory; later I also accidentally went under a “salambao” in Malabon river and I almost drowned; and I was run over by a passenger jeepney.



PLAYBOY:  You sound lucky to be alive!  Can you tell us more about your close calls?
GOZON:  Prior to 1940, it was customary for houses in Malabon to have small wells in their yards from which they could draw water for their daily use. In the yard of my grandparents’ house in Concepcion, Malabon, there was a small well covered by a thin, rusted sheet of iron as the well was no longer being used. What happened was, I stepped on top of this rusted thin iron sheet cover and fell into the well. It was fortunate that somebody (I think it was our neighbor) saw me fall into the well otherwise I would have drowned. The well was so small that no adult could fit in it. I was rescued with a pail (timba) that he (our neighbor) dropped into the well.



PLAYBOY:   What about the jeepney?  How did you get run over?

GOZON:  I was already in my primary school years in Malabon Elementary School at this time. We were playing baseball in our house in Arellano St., Malabon. I think I was pitching the ball to the hitter. When the baseball was hit past me to Arellano St., I ran after it, oblivious of vehicles that may be passing, as this street was not a busy one at that time. Unfortunately, when I ran past our gate to the street, a passenger jeepney was coming from my left side and it was too late when I saw it. The jeepney’s bumper hit my stomach and I was thrown back on the right side of the jeepney. If I were not thrown back on the side but in front of the jeepney, there was no doubt that I would have been run over.



PLAYBOY:  You must have given your parents a heart attack.  Were you hospitalized after any of these incidents?

GOZON: In all of these incidents, I was not hospitalized. In the jeepney case, after getting back my breath and composure, I think I even returned to playing baseball with my playmates.

My parents came to know about these incidents only after they happened. It was my mother who was greatly and more emotionally affected. Because of these and the other incidents I narrated, I think my mother became so fearful of what I was doing that could endanger my life that when she was delivering my younger sister, Flor, at the hospital, I was told that she kept asking where I was and what I was doing while she was under sedation.



PLAYBOY:  Who are your influences?

GOZON:  There were many people who have exerted influences on me, who served as my inspirations and some, even as my mentors.  Foremost among them are my parents (my mother at 94 years is still alive), my teachers/professors, some classmates, people who achieved great successes, and of course my family.



PLAYBOY:  Tell us about your time in UP.  Did you cut a lot of classes?

GOZON:  Before my third year in the U.P. College of Law and during my high school days, I didn’t study much.  During my pre-law years, I practically did not study at all since most of the subjects I took then were subjects we were already taught in the U.P. Preparatory High School.  I spent more time in the billiard hall in U.P. Diliman than in the classroom.  I also went to the movies almost every day.  As a consequence, I got poor grades.

But all of these changed in the second semester of my second year in the College of Law.  (My father caught me playing billiards instead of attending my class during my second year in the College.  He didn’t talk to me for one month.  It was as if I didn’t exist at all as far as he was concerned.  I then realized that I was making a serious mistake in not concentrating on my studies).  Thereafter, I focused on studying and became a consistent college scholar with an average of 1.75 or better every semester.  I was able to recover and pull down my average grade to about 2.0 (in my first and second years in the College of Law my average grade was 3.0).  I graduated among the top 10 of the class and qualified to be a member of the Purple Feather Society (an honor society in the U.P. College of Law) and the Phi Kappa Phi (an honor society in the University).



PLAYBOY:  Were you active in extracurricular activities or student organizations?

GOZON:  In Malabon Elementary School, I played all the games then in vogue from “sigay”, “tatsing”, “cards”, “rubber bands”, “tarumpo”, gagamba, etc. and enjoyed doing so.  In U.P. High School in Diliman, Q.C., I learned how to play bowling and billiards which was interrupted when I was transferred to the U.P. Preparatory School in Padre Faura in Manila.  I resumed playing billiards during my pre-law years and my first two years in the College of Law. Of course, I also courted girls during my high school and college days.  In fact, it was during my college years when I met the girl who would later become my wife.

I did not join any fraternity although my close friends in the College of Law were the heads of the frats there like Sigma Rho and Alpha Phi Beta.  The then leaders of Sigma Rho even told me that they can protect me from the “hazing”  but I did not want to undergo the “initiation” applicants to the fraternities have to go through just to belong to the organization.  I thought this was unnecessary because most of them were already my close friends.  I never regretted this decision.



PLAYBOY:  How did you enter the law profession?

GOZON:  Even when I was in high school it was already taken for granted that I would be a lawyer by my teachers and classmates because I argued with them a lot.  So when the time came for me to choose the course I would pursue in college, I did not have any difficulty in choosing law. After graduation I applied with Yale Law School for my masters degree and fortunately, I was accepted, with a fellowship to boot.

Before graduating from Yale Law School, a partner in the law firm in New York City where I worked during the summer before I enrolled in Yale, asked me about my future plans.  (The big law firms in the U.S. interview graduating law students from Yale, Harvard, etc. to recruit them).  I told him that I will be returning to the Philippines.  I thought that unless I would stay in the U.S. and practice law there, I had better return right away to the Philippines and start practicing law, or else, I will be behind my batchmates from U.P..



PLAYBOY:  What was your early career like?

GOZON:  After practicing law as junior partner for four years in the then law firm of Ponce Enrile, Siguion Reyna, Montecillo & Belo, Philippine Airlines (PAL) asked me to head their legal Department vice the late Dean Crispin Baizas.  I thought it would be good for me to experience being head of a Legal Department of a big corporation.  I also thought that I would not have too much work to do there (but this didn’t turn out to be the case as initially I had to wake up at 4 am and stay until 8 pm to finish the work in the department all by myself except only for one lawyer there – until I was able to get the assistance of some very good lawyers).

Just before the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 and before I was ready to quit as Vice-President for Legal Affairs of PAL, a senior partner in the Ponce Enrile law firm, Ike Belo, asked me to be his partner in a law firm he was putting up.  Since I did not intend to stay in PAL for long and eventually planned to return to law practice, I accepted Belo’s offer and we established what was to be known then as the Belo, GOZON & Abiera law firm.  After three years, I separated from this law firm to form GOZON, Elma & Parel with Justice Magdangal Elma.  In 1990, Belo and I resumed our law partnership as the Belo, GOZON, Elma, Parel, Asuncion & Lucila law firm.  Belo passed away in  2004 and the law firm continued as Belo, GOZON, Elma, Parel, Asuncion & Lucila up to the present.  I think Ike Belo and I were the only law partners in the Philippines who, after separating, were able to resume their law partnership again.



PLAYBOY:  We’ve heard that your specialization is aviation law.  How did that come about?

GOZON:  I became a specialist in Aviation Law – although the subjects I took in Yale were mostly taxation and corporation laws and the areas of law I practiced in the Ponce Enrile law firm was primarily tax and corporate laws – because of my stint in PAL.  Even after I resigned as Vice President for Legal Affairs from PAL, my law firm continued to be their retained counsel and I personally did much of the things I used to attend to as PAL Vice President.  That went on until about 1992 when we terminated our retainer with PAL.

In PAL, I personally attended to the civil aviation matters, and represented PAL in the weekly Civil Aeronautics Board hearings, fares increases, air negotiations and agreements with other countries.  I even wrote a book entitled: “Civil Aeronautics Board: Powers, Implementing Regulations and Procedures” which is the only book so far written about civil aviation law and procedure in the Philippines. The most challenging experiences we encountered were when we negotiated air agreements with countries like the United States, UK, Japan, etc. because most of the time we needed something from then and they, in turn, did not require or need much from us.



PLAYBOY:  What are your thoughts on the NAIA 3 controversy?

GOZON:  It was unfortunate that NAIA 3’s opening was unduly delayed by corruption and politics.  Our country badly needs a bigger, more modern and presentable airport terminal comparable to the much bigger and modern terminals of HongKong, Bangkok, Singapore, etc.  I also think that even now the government should already be planning to construct and establish a much bigger and modern terminal and more runways (not just one or two) that can accommodate numerous flights of the much bigger new generation aircraft with the much greater number of passengers they carry.  Because of lack of space in Metro Manila, this new, bigger airport system will have to be located outside Metro Manila, like Narita airport in Tokyo, Gatwick airport in London, etc.



PLAYBOY:  Did you ever think that you would one day end up as a ‘media baron’?

GOZON:  I never thought, nor did I plan on ever becoming president and CEO of GMA Network, or any media organization, for that matter.  I was happy and content with my practice of law in the law firm that I helped establish and nurture. But although I never had the experience of actually managing and running a corporation like GMA Network, I think my short stint as Vice President for Legal Affairs of PAL and the exposure I got to the inner practices and systems there as well as the fact that I have been Chairman of the Board of GMA Network since 1975 helped me a lot in my transition weeks and months in GMA.  Moreover, I learned that in order to manage well you need to study and learn first what are the problems, what need to be done, to get the respect of your people, to get your people to move in the same direction, to get to know your competitors and their strengths and weaknesses, use and apply a lot of common sense, be fair, transparent and honest not only with your own people but also with those you deal with outside your company, be consistent with your basic policies and apply them evenly and fairly, focus on what you want to achieve for your company in the short and long terms, etc.



PLAYBOY:   What did you think when it first looked like you would have to run a TV station?

GOZON:  As there was really nobody else at that time that we (the majority shareholders of GMA) could get to manage the TV station,  I just had to do the job.  There was really no time to plan.  I had to hit the ground running, so to speak. At first, I entertained a little apprehension that I would be able to do better than the President/CEO I replaced.  But knowing a little bit of the business (I have been Chairman of the Board of GMA since 1975) and with GMA then lagging very far behind ABS-CBN, I thought that I could do something to improve GMA’ position in the TV industry by making some changes some of which I had proposed to management before.

In the early months of my management of GMA I found that some key executives had to be replaced and some had to be promoted.  After doing them, I started to hope and thereafter expect that we can, through our collective efforts, make GMA 7  No. 1 in ratings and in net income. Of course, the greatest challenge I faced was how to beat ABS-CBN which was the no. 1 TV station then in terms of rating and net income which was the goal I myself set for GMA to achieve.  After achieving that, and the nationwide TV ratings (NUTAM) became available, the next challenge became how to make GMA’s ratings in the Visayas and Mindanao higher than that of ABS-CBN as we are already ahead in ratings in Luzon where 76.3% of all the TV households in the Philippines are situated.



PLAYBOY:  How would you describe your relationship with the Lopez family?

GOZON:  I would like to believe that the Lopez family and my family are not enemies and we need not be.  While we are engaged in the same fiercely competing business, such competition can be healthy and beneficial for both of us.  There is no need to reduce this competition or the so-called “Network War” down to the personal level.



PLAYBOY:  What do you do to relax?

GOZON:  When I get tired or bored reading voluminous reports or in studying complex problems, I usually stop what I’m doing to clear my head by playing chess if there is someone with whom I could play.  I now take a short nap after lunch to recharge my batteries so to speak.

Whereas before I didn’t take long planned vacations, recently, I have been taking these planned vacations with my whole family, including my grandchildren. Every Sunday whenever there is a “quorum”, my wife and I usually play bowling with my bowling buddies and their wives, after which the husbands play “balut”.  This has been going on for more than 25 years now. I also read fiction and non-fiction books related to what I am doing, like books about management and marketing.  Also “An Anarchy of Families:  State and Family in the Philippines” edited by Alfred W.  McCoy, and “Kinship Politics in Postwar Philippines:  The Lopez Family 1946-2000” by Prof. Mina Roces.



PLAYBOY:  What was it like to see your name on Forbes’ list of the 40 richest people in the Philippines?

GOZON:  I was very surprised!  I know it’s not true as there are many other Filipinos (particularly of Chinese origin) who are far richer than me.  Perhaps, Forbes magazine just didn’t know about them like most of us do in the Philippines.



 PLAYBOY: What’s next for Felipe Gozon?  Do you have any personal projects in the works?

GOZON:  I think I’ll retire from GMA if and when we shall have successfully achieved the projects and goals we have set out for the company.  But I’ll probably continue to practice law for as long as I’m able to do so.


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