MMDA accused of P300-M film ‘rip-off’


Every year, the country holds a 10-day raucous film festival capped by a parade of movie stars, a glittering “Awards Night” and another opportunity for a multi-million peso amusement tax rip-off, according to the Actors’ Guild and the Film Academy of the Philippines.

Guild and Academy officials claim that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), held from December 24 to January 3 under the control of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), is riddled with anomalies based on findings of the Commission on Audit (COA).

“A syndicate that runs the MMFF is stealing money from us. Latest findings show they owe us P82 million,” said actor Leo Martinez, Director General of the Film Academy of the Philippines.

A Marcos-era law intended to promote the growth of the film industry created the MMFF. It sets aside for use of industry workers the 20 percent amusement tax paid by moviegoers in Metro Manila and the add-on costs imposed by theater owners in the countryside.

The amount collected since 1986 could reach nearly P1 billion. A partial COA audit conducted from 2002 to 2008 showed that the MMDA owed industry workers at least P300 million.

Martinez said the MMDA, formerly the Metro Manila Commission headed by Joey Lina, took control of the MMFF after Marcos fled to Hawaii and Corazon Aquino came to power in 1986.

He added that the MMDA collected the money but failed to submit financial reports of the proceeds, which should be distributed as specified by law as follows: Movie Welfare Fund, 50 percent; Film Academy, 20 percent; Optical Media Board, five percent; and Film Development Council, five percent.

“I filed a mandamus petition in court last year but the case is not moving. I wrote to MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino but he ignored my letter,” Martinez said.

He added that the MMDA has expanded the coverage of the film festival to include some towns and cities outside Metro Manila, but nobody knows where the income earned from add-on costs imposed by theater owners go.

“Tolentino could say he had nothing to do with the money when he was not yet MMDA chairman. But he is continuing past practices, which is illegal. He should go to jail,” Martinez said.

The Manila Times tried to contact Tolentino but he was always out of his office. His Public Information Officer, Candy de Jesus, was also too busy to answer the phone.

Actors’ Guild President Rez Cortez said industry workers are short-changed by film producers, theater owners and the MMDA, which controls the disbursement of funds.

“The film festival is intended to promote the film industry. But the film industry is dying if it’s not yet dead,” Cortez lamented.

He said the poor quality of the six to eight movies submitted as entries to the film festival every year speaks of the bad state of the Philippine movie industry.

“Producers do not care about quality anymore. They only care about profits and they love to say, ‘Dapat pambata para kumita [MMFF entries should cater to the young for the movies to earn money],’” Cortez added.

Jesse Ejercito, chairman of the MMFF Executive Committee, said a case has been filed in court and Martinez and Cortez should wait for the court’s decision.

He denied any wrongdoing in the disbursement of funds and said Martinez and Cortez misinterpret the situation and “they refuse to accept our explanations.”

“They refuse to understand,” Ejercito said.

Their squabble has drawn attention to the misuse of tax privilege, which was intended to help the film industry but stakeholders claim the money end up in the pockets of officials.

In the 1980s, the Philippines was among the top 10 film-producing countries in the world, but it could not compete with Hollywood and lost much of its business to giant companies such as MGM, Universal, Columbia and 20th Century Fox.

This is because Hollywood has built-in advantages such as unlimited production budgets, modern equipment and technology, worldwide distribution and marketing system, said Diego Cagahastian, a former journalist –turned-scriptwriter and director.

But Filipino producers have local knowledge and focus, which can be used in producing films that appeal to Filipinos, he added.

“What we need are Filipino films with Filipino character,” Cagahastian told The Manila Times.

But the major players must take a hard look at the predicament of the industry and take steps to avert the industry’s downfall.

(To be continued)

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