In the past two months, the Philippine Film Industry is beset with economic challenges, especially in its labor sector. Here is a rundown of the key determining issues of the industry for the last two months.

ABS-CBN Franchise Renewal

One of the biggest issues faced by the local film industry during the past months was Durterte’s reiteration of ABS-CBN’s non-renewal of the franchise. The public is once again notified that one of the country’s biggest television networks has only until March 30, 2020, to exist as a broadcast media entity by virtue of RA 7966, or An Act Granting the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation a Franchise to Construct, Install, Operate and Maintain Television and Radio Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines, and for other purposes. Non-renewal of the franchise would mean the loss of jobs of thousands of employees ( RAPPLER).

The ABS-CBN has not been a good company when it comes to regularizing their employees. During the turn of the decade, hundreds of employees were terminated from the company, especially those who are members of the ABS-CBN’s employees union, the IJM Union (CMFR; Bulatlat) Albeit labor disputes, still, lawmakers from the Makabayan Bloc filed house bill to renew the franchise of the network pursuant of a higher purpose, which is to defend the right for the freedom of the press (ABSCBN). National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also launched an online petition which gathered more than 150,000 signatures to appeal for franchise renewal. Climate group Green Thumb Coalition and labor group Defend Job Philippines also criticized Duterte’s reiteration of his and said that the non-renewal of the franchise could mean mass termination of the company’s media workers (ABSCBN NEWS).

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SC Orders FDCP to Stop Collecting Amusement Tax and Offering Tax Refund Incentives to Grade A and B Films

Another challenging circumstance faced by the film sector is the abolition of FDCP’s incentive program for Grade A and B films. In December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines has made a decision nullifying the constitutionality of the Sections 13 and 14 of the Republic Act  9147, or An Act Creating the Film Development Council of the Philippines, which authorizes FDCP to collect amusement taxes from Local Government Units (LGUs) (RAPPLER; FDCP). Sections 13 and 14 of the said Act gives tax refund incentive for Grade A and B films.

The incentive process for Grade A and B films, as elucidated in the SC Court Decision, mandates LGUs to remit amusement taxes collected from films to the Council. The Council then awards these collected amusement taxes as ‘tax refunds’ to film producers as the final part of the incentive process.

SC ruling proclaims that such an incentive process is unconstitutional as it violates the country’s LGU Code. SC maintains that LGUs have the fiscal autonomy to make use of their collected amusement taxes in their theater establishments. This only means that FDCP’s “Grade A or B” incentive process is now illegal, nullifying the existence of the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), which classifies the films.

Proposed Baseline Creative Industries Mapping Study for The Philippines from The Philippine Creative Economy: Toward a Baseline & Programme written by Tom Fleming and published by the British Council and the National Council for Culture and the Arts

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DTI’s Creative Economy Roadmap 2030: Filipino Film as Export Commodity

During the National Export Congress last December 6, 2019, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched the Creative Economy Roadmap 2030 which prioritizes the following initiatives: policies, industries, clusters, cities, tourism and education and includes the following priority sectors: advertising, film, animation, game development, and graphic arts and design (BIZMIRROR). DTI Secretary Ramon Ang sees the creative industry, which includes the production of film and media products as well as the development of games and software, as a key driver in the country’s economic growth especially in its performance as an export product.

DTI Secretary Ramon M. Lopez highlights the importance of the industry to competitively trade intellectual property rights at the international level. He emphasized the high-quality and internationally competitive output of the Filipino creative industry which he mainly attributes to the highly skilled and talented local creative industry workers. Secretary Lopez sees the Philippines as the ‘top Creative Economy in the ASEAN by 2030’.

The government’s orientation to lump together sub-sectors like advertising, film, animation, game development, and graphic arts and design under the developmental term ‘Creative Industries’ opens a lot of doors conceptually and in political economic terms as to how international, governmental, non-governmental, and developmental sector see these micro-industries.

The logic behind this indicates market synergy of these five sectors which we can attribute to its current technological base — digital technology. It is only recognized now because digital technology has provided the means by which it can interoperate within these sub-sectors complimenting each other’s domain. The Creative Industry Roadmap 2030 was formalized under the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Creative Economy Council of the Philippines (CECP), DTI-Board of Investments (DTI-BOI), National Council for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the British Council (BC) (Culture 360; BIZMIRROR).

Some related resources that can offer baseline studies to deepen our knowledge for policy research and critique:

Metro Manila Film Fest 2019

Annually, the Philippine Film Industry’s most crucial months are December and January of next year both months host the largest commercial fanfare – the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) which runs from December 25 until January 8 of next year. This year’s MMFF grossed P995 million (RAPPLER,  ABSCBN NEWS), which translates to an average of 3,980,000 tickets sold at P250 each nationwide.

It was also announced during the MMFF run that there will be a summer version of the said festival dubbed as the Metro Manila Summer Film Festival (MMSFF) which runs for more than a week and opens on Black Saturday (PHILSTAR).

The commercial success of the MMFF this year only shows that the major commercial studios only maintained its profitability and power over the domestic market with the help of government instrumentalities like the MMDA. It also retained its structure as a result of the stronghold of MMFF’s Executive Committee whose vested interest is to earn more than to introduce new forms of commercial film genres outside the usual fare of comedy, romance, and horror-comedy. In fact, MMDA General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr. said the commercial value is important for this year’s 2019 festival run (RAPPLER). Next year, the plan to introduce MMSFF is not an introduction of something new, but only a repetition of the same logic of MMFF for film producers to gain more profit. As it stands, MMFF is still the country’s most profitable commercial film festival.

Regional Film Scenes

Early in December, Philippine’s national film agency, Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) signed partnerships with five regional film festivals: Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival, Festival de Cine Paz Mindanao, Mindanao Film Festival, CineKasimanwa: The Western Visayas Film Festival, and Pasale: Cinemarehiyon-Bikol Film Festival (FDCP). FCDP Chairperson Liza Dino highlighted that the contemporary film industry is ‘very Manila-Centric’ and that there is a need to focus on the regional filmmakers.

While Dino’s effort is much appreciated, what the regional film industry need is a more concrete effort to further industrialize and nationalize the mode of production of the film. What the regional filmmakers need now is an effective system for shared resource utilization and capital-sharing through cooperatives, associations, and worker’s unions that can curb the rising cost of film production in the Philippines and help in establishing production hubs in the regions. Audience empowerment through regional film festivals does not translate to lesser debt among filmmakers.

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