Local singers up against the ‘Phantom’ menaceBy Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Singer-actor Jett Pangan, the lead star of Atlantis’ new musical “Nine,” has added his voice to the campaign of local artists to impose proper dues on foreign productions like “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Pangan said foreign artists should pay P5,000 each pursuant to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed in 1989 between the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and local artists groups, led by the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mangaawit (OPM) and the Asosasyon ng mga Musikong Pilipino (AMP).
“I support both the OPM and the Theater Actors Guild (TAG), which want the BI to honor the MOA on the Equity Rights Program,” said Pangan, who straddles both the music and theater scenes. “The equity dues will go to local artists’ welfare fund.”
Filipino singers, actors and musicians under the banner of the Alliance of Working Artists for Rights and Equity (Aware) have protested the decision of the BI to grant special working permits to the foreign cast and crew of “Phantom.”
Aware is an umbrella organization of artists that includes OPM, AMP, TAG and other groups raising this issue.
“I don’t agree that just because (the ‘Phantom’ stars) are theater actors, and not singers, they should be exempt from equity obligations,” Pangan asserted.
He explained that these foreign performers also sing onstage, adding that international productions compete for the same audience and sponsors as those of local shows.
However, the BI said the foreign cast of “Phantom” was issued a special work permit even without clearance from the OPM because it was not covered by an agreement between the agency and the local group.
According to a statement released by BI spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang: “There is no basis for the bureau to require stage actors who are not singers or musicians to submit to the equity program.”
Mangrobang, in an earlier statement, explained that the MOA between the bureau and the OPM only applies to foreign singers, backup vocalists and instrumentalists.
“Why should they be allowed to circumvent our laws?” asked Cherie Gil, another “Nine” star. “They should pay the right taxes.”
Costar Carla Guevara-Laforteza, agreed: “It’s not fair. Filipino artists can’t perform abroad without paying all sorts of levies.”
Ima Castro, who is also in the cast of “Nine,” recounted that she dutifully paid taxes in the United Kingdom, where she played Kim in the musical “Miss Saigon” a decade ago.
“It was automatically deducted from my salary,” Castro recalled. “In a year, I paid a total of 6,000 pounds (or around P407,000 at the prevailing exchange rate).”
Kalila Aguilos, TAG president, told the Inquirer that the funds from equity dues being imposed by the BI are “to be divided equally among different artists groups and are to be appropriated for (their) health care.”
“Now why would the BI want to deprive artists of that? I find it so immoral,” she said.
The BI for its part said that TAG was not yet part of the MOA.
Aguilos countered that this was because of the numerous paperwork being required by BI. “It’s as if TAG’s integration is being stalled,” she noted.
According to Pangan, the fact remains that Filipino artists are being displaced by these international productions.
For instance, he said “Nine” will run at the same time as “Phantom.” “Nine” will go onstage at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati from Sept. 21 to Oct. 7.
“But we have fewer performances compared to ‘Phantom,’” he said.
He could only hope that Filipino audiences would be more supportive of local productions.
He observed that local theater companies couldn’t mount a play without paying royalties (performance rights license), which could be pretty steep for a Tony-winning musical like “Nine.”
“Then you have to pay the actors and the crew,” he added. “You cannot scrimp on the crew because they are the most hard-working people in this business.”
Pangan considers himself fortunate that, apart from being a stage actor, he also gets gigs as frontman of the rock band The Dawn.
“We will go on tour next year. It’s pretty strange that a lot of local artists now go abroad to perform since there are more work opportunities there,” he noted. “While in our own country, foreign artists are much more in demand. It doesn’t make sense.”
He expressed optimism that the construction of Bay City—a Las Vegas-style entertainment center on reclaimed land along Roxas Boulevard, would spell good news for local artists.
“I can’t wait for that entertainment center to be finished … that would be our Broadway,” he said.
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