By LIZA DIÑO-SEGUERRA
Notes from the Chair
The Sunday Times Magazine
The Manila Times
April 5, 2020
The Filipino Audio-Visual (AV) industry was one of the first casualties and the most terribly hit by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic due to the cancellation of events, performances, production work and activities, especially when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was implemented in different parts of the country.
While regular and contractual employees get to continue their tasks via alternative work arrangements and still get paid, most of the AV industry workers do not share the same fate. In an instant, they lost work or became out of work because of this crisis. This is the reality of our AV industry sector, and unfortunately, 70 percent of our workforce belongs to the freelance demographic.
Our government has responded quickly by offering financial assistance programs for employees, and companies followed suit with their own forms of support. However, the ones inevitably excluded from the picture are those who have no employee-employer relationships, leave credits, government-instituted benefits, and 13th month pay. These include freelancers—from talents and performers (actors, singers, dancers, musicians, etc.), to production and post-production staff, and technical crew members who get paid on a “per day” or “per project” basis, are on a “no work, no pay” scheme, and have no direct employers to work for.
As the national film agency under the Office of the President whose stakeholders include the AV workers, it is the goal of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) to make sure that freelance workers are not left behind.
While these workers may not have employers to run to, they should have us, the government, that they can turn to, especially in these hard times. As public servants, it is our duty to provide them with that security because not having employers does not make them any less worthy of government support.
Our workers are the heart of the AV industry, yet they are bearing the brunt of this unfortunate situation. With this in mind, FDCP created a support program to assist displaced freelance AV workers who lost work because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On March 23, FDCP humbly launched the DEAR (Disaster/Emergency Assistance and Relief) Program. It is a disaster-triggered funding mechanism that provides financial assistance to stakeholders directly affected by a major natural disaster or public health emergency. This fund is activated every time the President of the Republic of the Philippines declares a state of calamity.
DEAR Press! (For Displaced Freelance Entertainment Press) will give P5,000 financial aid to qualified freelance entertainment press members such as editors, writers and reporters who were also affected by the Covid-19 situation.
The DEAR Program is FDCP’s “quick response”—a disaster fund that was approved days after the ECQ was announced in anticipation of our freelance workers’ plight caused by this crisis. It is a product of sleepless nights, as we listen to the woes of our freelance workers looking for hope and support.
I remember worrying each day, especially when FDCP started issuing memos to suspend screenings, put production shoots on hold, temporarily close cinemas and cancel all AV activities that constitute mass gathering. I kept on asking myself: How will the industry cope with this? Where will our workers get their day-to-day pay? As an actress myself, I know the predicament of our freelancers, and it breaks my heart that most of them are in “survival mode” because of their “no work, no pay” status. We cannot afford to sit around and do nothing.
But just when the issues of our workers’ plight are slowly being addressed, something much graver hits you, something closer to home: Colleagues who have been stricken by the virus.
However, cinematographer Joseph delos Reyes and Domingo “Menggie” Cobarrubias unfortunately did not make it.
Tito Menggie, as we fondly call him, was also a personal friend. We go way back. Back in my days as an aspiring theater actress, trying to make a name for myself on the performance stage. From then till now, 20 years after, he has always been supportive of me. And when I took this position as FDCP Chair, he has always been appreciative of FDCP’s initiatives that even in his final days, these were his last words to me: “Liza, Mabuhay ka. Salamat sa lahat ng tulong mo at pagmamahal sa industriya.”
In these trying times, Tito Menggie’s words and his encouragement surely helps to keep me going. It is this spirit of unity, appreciation, and cooperation that we need to promote especially among our stakeholders. It is great to know that the film industry has come together to help our freelance workers.
Organizations like the Lockdown Cinema Club in partnership with Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI), Lupon ng Pilipinong Sinematograpo, and the Ricky Lee Film Scriptwriting Workshop also put together a fundraising program to support our workers. Performing Arts groups like Philstage and Theater Actors Guild created an online fundraising project called “Open House” for the benefit of the Performing Arts Community.
As for FDCP, the program DEAR Live! to support our displaced freelance Live Performance sector is already in the works, and a partnership with the Artist Welfare Project Inc. is coming into fruition.
While we continue to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, let us continue to find ways to help relieve the situation of our freelance workers. They have given so much to our industry, so let us make them feel that we genuinely care for them and hold them dear.