MANILA, Philippines -- The Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM) is taking its fight with the Bureau of Immigration (BI) over foreign acts performing in the country to the Office of the President.
In a letter to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. dated August 15, a copy of which was furnished to ABS-CBNnews.com, OPM president Ogie Alcasid said the group is seeking mediation on the issue of its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the BI requiring foreign artists to seek "Equity clearance" from OPM and the Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino (AMP) prior to issuance of special work permits.
"Over the past six months, said MOA has been seriously compromised by the entry of two foreign theater musical productions i.e. 'Mamma Mia,' which was staged in February and 'The Phantom of the Opera' opening on August 25. Foreign artists of both productions were issued special work permits without clearance from OPM," Alcasid said in the letter, which was also signed by OPM chairman Mitch Valdes.
According to Alcasid, OPM had a dialogue with Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David, Jr. on February 8, where the official "pledged his support for the Filipino artists and promised to keep the communication lines open between the MOA stakeholders."
"He also committed to include other sectors such as theater, dance, circus and magic groups, and other live performing artists similarly affected by the influx of foreign productions in the country. All of these were premised on a vibrant local creative industry where Filipino artists are given much-needed support and a leveled playing field is ensured," the singer-actor said in the letter.
Apart from the two touring theater productions mentioned, Manila has also hosted Cirque du Soleil's "Saltimbanco" earlier this month, among other circus and dance acts.
"The Phantom of the Opera" opened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last Saturday.
Alcasid said the group is disappointed that the agreements in the February meeting "did not materialize" with the BI issuing work permits to foreign performers of "The Phantom of the Opera" without consulting OPM.
"We recognize and respect BI’s mandate to regulate the entry of foreigners into our country and its power to issue work permits. However, such mandate and power should not be arbitrary and must consider the effects of foreigners’ local work engagement to affected local sectors who are regular taxpayers and promoters of the local economy," OPM said in its letter to Ochoa.
"The country’s artists and creative industry would appreciate any help you can extend to the resolution of this matter," it added.
In July, OPM, joined by other local performing groups under the umbrella organization Alliance of Working Artists for Rights and Equity (AWARE), wrote to BI's David urging the agency "to withdraw the special work permits granted by the Bl to the foreign artists and staff of 'The Phantom of the Opera,' until its local producers have complied with the requirements of our existing Equity agreements."
"We are concerned that, within the span of only six months, the existing Memorandum of Agreement between Bl, OPM, and the Asosasyon Ng Musikong Pilipino (AMP) has been seriously compromised," the group said in a letter to David dated July 9, a copy of which was furnished to ABS-CBNnews.com.
Apart from Alcasid and Valdes, the letter was also signed by prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, artistic director of Ballet Manila; actor Audie Gemora, president of Trumpets; actor Bart Guingona, president of Actors' Actors Inc.; actor Nanding Josef, artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino; musician John Lesaca, president of AMP; actress Kalila Aguilos, president of Philippine Theater Actors Guild; Pelita Peralta-Uy, convenor of the Independent Producers Guild; Paul Morales, artistic director of Ballet Philippines; and Elmar Beltran Ingles, executive director of OPM and Philstage.
"We recognize that visiting artists and foreign acts help promote the country and its tourism industry and economy. But it is the collective effort of local artists and producers that sustain the local entertainment, music, theater and performance industries long after foreign acts have left with their profits," the group told the BI.
"We are the ones who regularly pay local income taxes and amusement taxes and participate in nation-building through our talents’ engagement in sociocivic causes. And yet we suffer from drained local corporate advertising support which has been committed mostly to foreign acts. lt is the local producers who are left holding empty bags. All these contribute to a neardeath spell for a local performing arts industry that has long invested in the development and longterm sustainability of the local creative economy," they added.
No grounds to revoke
The BI, however, rejected the request in a letter to Alcasid, dated August 15, a copy of which was furnished to ABS-CBNnews.com.
"With regards to your request to withdraw the special working permits issued to the cast and crew of 'The Phantom of the Opera,' please be informed that the Bureau finds that the Philippine organizers have complied with the existing requirements and there appears to be no substantial ground to grant your request and revoke the issued permits," David said in the letter.
David also stressed that the BI has been enforcing the terms its June 20, 2007 MOA with OPM.
"However, under the existing provisions of the current MOA, the Bureau has no basis to require artists who are not singers or musicians to be subjected under the said MOA," David said.
"Please be informed that since the previous meeting, the MOA has not yet been renewed or amended such that it will require theater performers and non-performing foreigners to contribute to the equity program of the OPM," he added.
David also reminded Alcasid that OPM has not yet submitted "reportorial documents," as per the BI's January 30 letter, for the purposes of amending or renewing the 2007 MOA, which was signed during the term of then-Commissioner Marcelino Libanan.
But Alcasid, in his letter to Ochoa, noted that past foreign theaterical productions such as "Miss Saigon," "Cinderella," "Cats" and "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber" have sought clearance from OPM before they were given special working permits.
"We do not understand why the current BI dispensation refuses to apply the same rules and practice honored by previous BI administrators," Alcasid said.
So far there has been no response from Ochoa on OPM's request.
Phantoms at the BI
Meanwhile, in a seperate statement, the umbrella group AWARE slammed the "phantoms" at the BI who are "spooking" the local performing arts industry.
"We are bothered that bureaucrats who are neither artists nor culture experts are unilaterally deciding on categorical classification of performing artists. We question the professional competence of BI administrators who declare that actors featured in foreign musicals are non-singers. How else can a professional performer do singing roles if he or she is not a singer?" the group said in a statement released on Monday.
AWARE also said David's support for the arts is "seemingly being frustrated by the good Commissioner’s own staff, who, in previous public discussions, have been observed to make disparaging remarks about Filipino artists and local productions while 'lawyering' for the cause of foreign productions."
"We reiterate that we are not against the presence of foreigners in our local music industry and in the local concert, theater and entertainment circuits. But we reserve the right to protect our own livelihood – just like any other Filipino professionals who care for equitable and fair treatment, dignity of local labor, sense of patriotism, and the recognition of the Filipino creative genius," it added.