MANILA – “Honor Thy Father” director Erik Matti demanded an audit of the ticket sales and finances of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) during Monday’s congressional hearing on the alleged irregularities in the annual event.
The alleged irregularities include the disqualification of “Honor Thy Father” from the Best Picture category of last year’s MMFF.
But Matti said he did not attend the hearing for that purpose.
“I would like to clarify why we are here. It is not to say that we should win Best Picture or that we are better than the rest of the films in MMFF 2015. That is not why we are here,” Matti said.
“When MMFF disqualified us for Best Picture, that incident prompted us to look beyond our film, ‘Honor Thy Father.’ We would like to clarify some issues regarding MMFF.”
He stressed: “MMFF is only concerned about money and not in the welfare of the producers, the film workers and the taxpayers who support them each year. With MMFF being under MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) – and therefore an accountable public office – we would like Congress to trace the flow of money, from the ticket buyers to the theater box office, to the MMFF, to the producers and to its beneficiaries. We want MMFF to produce verifiable bank statements and open themselves to audit – not just for this year alone, but in the past years as well.”
“Once and for all, we have to get to the bottom of this and investigate how long this has been going on, not just in MMFF 2015 but probably in the past years because it puts into question the integrity and credibility of the entire institution of MMFF, the MMDA and the government itself.”
Before demanding an audit of MMFF funds, Matti brought up issues they encountered in relation to their disqualification in last year’s festival.
Citing points from MMFF’s rules and regulations, the director asked why people connected with the festival’s executive committee “cannot be held liable for any complaint,” why some films were removed from cinemas “even just after a day of exhibition,” and why more than two films of the same genre were accepted this year.
“It may seem a small issue. It is almost nitpicking, but this year alone there are at least three romantic comedies and three horror films. This may be a small thing to complain about, but we really feel that this is connected to a much bigger issue,” he explained.
“From the theater disqualification to the genre to the immunity, [these are all] connected to this bigger issue – conflict of interest,” he added.
“The question we want to throw at the Congress is, is there conflict of interest between the MMFF executive committee members and film producers of MMFF film entries? We pray that the Congress investigates this matter because if this is proven to exist, we demand to know how long this has been going on, and who are the people benefiting from the taxpayers’ money.”
During the hearing, MMFF and MMDA chairman Emerson Carlos said proceeds from the annual festival are not subject to audit, saying the funds are “donated money.”
Carlos was later rebuked by congressmen who said the MMFF funds are subject to audit because these come from amusement taxes imposed on moviegoers.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, however, pointed out that the Commission on Audit was aware of this issue involving MMFF funds, citing a 2009 report.
The probe was called upon a resolution of Laguna Rep. Dan Fernandez, who played a role in "Honor Thy Father."
Fernandez brought up the issue of conflict of interest on the part of MMFF executive committee members Dominic Du, pointing to a document by his supposed lawyer, Josabeth Alonso, who in turn is a producer of the MMFF best picture winner "Walang Forever."
Du denied that Alonso is his lawyer but admitted to being an incorporator in a company that distributed two MMFF entries.
"Honor Thy Father" star John Lloyd Cruz, who is also one of the film's executive producers, was unable to attend the congressional investigation launched by the Committee on Metro Manila Development at the Lower House Monday.
Cruz was scheduled to arrive from a trip to Japan later Monday.
The committee will continue its hearing on Wednesday.
In a statement, Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Emmi De Jesus called on the committee to go beyond tinkering around the Metro Manila Film Festival and instead directly question the bottomline of the festival’s money-making mandate.
“Ang MMFF ay binabayaran ng taxpayers, at bilang isang state-sponsored na proyekto ng obrang sining, hindi lamang ito makipag-unahan sa mga pribadong film fest sa revenue generation. Mas dapat na kalidad ng pelikula ang nauunang agenda. Patunay dito ang pagtanggal ng 'Honor Thy Father' sa best picture sa makipot na dahilang teknikal, senyales na ito na wakasan na ang mga maniobrahan at ilapat ang marangal na pamantayan sa pagpili ng mga entry,” de Jesus said. -- With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News