GMA 7 boss Felipe L. Gozon said on Wednesday the network would do “everything in its power to enforce its contract” with actress Sarah Lahbati until it ends on Feb. 21, 2015.
“We don’t want our other artists to do what Sarah did to us,” Gozon said in an exclusive interview with the Inquirer. “She demanded that we rescind the contract—pinapangunahan kami (she’s preempting us). We intend to honor the contract until it expires.”
Gozon, president and CEO of the Kapuso network, said that Lahbati’s decision to go on indefinite leave without the network’s approval was “a sign of discourtesy” and a violation of her talent contract.
“We don’t want it to start a precedent in matters such as these,” Gozon said. “We have other talents. They would think it’s easy to just leave GMA 7 when they want to. Gano’n lang pala ’yon (Just like that). We’re all reasonable people. If a contract artist wants to discuss something with us, we’re very much willing to listen.”
Lahbati accused the Kapuso network on Twitter last Monday of engaging in “under-the-table deals” in the management of its talents.
She asked the network to release her and rescind her contract with GMA Artist Center (GMAAC), “if GMA is releasing all this bad publicity about me and saying that I have bad behavior.”
GMA 7, however, is not bent on doing just that. Gozon pointed out the network had “invested” in Lahbati by “spending for her training, workshops, promotions and even on styling her.”
According to him, the network considers all its talents “raw diamonds that needed polishing. We attend to their needs and, in turn, we benefit from them.”
Gozon added: “I don’t want to speculate on whether (Annabelle) Rama influenced her to talk against the network. However, I am aware that Sarah is now the girlfriend of Rama’s son (Richard Gutierrez) and that she signed an agreement with Rama.”
The network said Lahbati had entered into “an illegal” co-management contract with Royal Era Entertainment & Artist Management, owned by Rama.
Gozon, meanwhile, refused to comment on the rumor that Gutierrez has gotten the actress pregnant. Lahbati’s delicate condition allegedly prompted her parents to send her to Switzerland.
“We don’t know that for a fact. In any case, actresses who had to leave work to give birth were able to get back to us without fuss,” Gozon said. “We do not force our talents to work if they no longer can. There’s no issue we cannot resolve by sitting down and talking.”
Going to court
Also on Wednesday, the network said it would file a court case against Lahbati for breach of contract and “to determine who between the two parties is correct, telling the truth or lying.”
In a statement sent to the Inquirer, the network said it had “endorsed the matter” to its lawyers, and that it would “no longer publicly comment on the case (after the complaint has been filed in court), except through court pleadings.”
The GMA 7 statement also addressed all the issues that the 19-year-old actress raised on her Twitter account in the past week, starting with her decision to take a break from work and leave for Switzerland to continue her studies.
The network pointed out that Lahbati’s contract has no provision for leave of absence. “Any leave is subject to prior agreement between the network and Sarah. Therefore, Sarah’s unilateral decision to go on leave, despite the network’s disapproval, is a violation of her contract.”
Gozon also told the Inquirer that GMA 7 “never authorized any co-management contracts with Icons in relation to our exclusive talents.”
However, he said the network allows co-management in the case of artists who already “have managers and still choose to join our group.”
Lahbati earlier claimed that GMA Films president Annette Gozon-Abrogar and GMAAC head for talent management Arsi Baltazar tried to convince her to sign a contract with Icons, another talent management outfit headed by Bebong Muñoz and Andrew Dee.
Lahbati said she turned down the offer “because we didn’t know Muñoz and Dee, plus the deduction of 40 percent was too steep.”
GMAAC already deducts 25 percent from the take-home pay of each of its talents. Another 15 percent of her salary would go to Icons had she agreed to its co-management contract.
In its statement, the network further said “concrete actions have been taken and penalties have been imposed on the executives who were found liable.”
GMA7 added that it found “no proof of (Lahbati’s) allegation that there was an ‘under-the-table deal’ between GMAAC and Icons.”
Icons, in a statement, said Lahbati’s claim had “no factual basis.” The talent management group added that while its lawyers already said “it has sufficient evidence to file a criminal case” against Lahbati, it would “not resort to the courts at this point … in the spirit of goodwill.”