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Questions over Film Fest fund reach court

MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino and Actor Leo Martinez

The Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) asked the Quezon City court on Wednesday to compel the organizers of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival to release some P82.7 million in amusement tax collections from previous festivals, saying the money had yet to reach their “intended beneficiaries” like ordinary workers in the movie industry.

The FAP, through its director general, actor Leo Martinez, also noted the “undocumented disbursements” of these funds amounting to P102 million from 2002 to 2008, citing a report from the Commission on Audit.

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The group sought a court order also to prevent the National Cinema Association of the Philippines (NCAP) from remitting the proceeds of the recently concluded 2013 MMFF to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the lead organizer.

It warned that, without the court’s intervention, the latest proceeds might “again form part of the pool of funds which has not been accounted for and has not reached its intended beneficiaries.”

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The MMDA last week announced that gross box-office earnings from the last film festival reached P1 billion, breaking previous records.

The FAP is an umbrella organization of various guilds in the local film industry. Its petition named the NCAP and MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino, who also heads the MMFF executive committee, as respondents.

The petitioner said the 39-year-old festival was not solely intended to showcase Filipino talent and artistry but also to raise revenue for the benefit of ordinary workers in the film industry.

“Quite unfortunately, however, these identified beneficiaries do not consistently reap the benefits intended for them,” it said.

The FAP said it was forced to go to court after the MMFF executive committee failed to respond to its Oct. 14, 2013, letter raising the same issue.

The FAP cited an executive order of the Metro Manila Commission (precursor to the MMDA) stating that proceeds from the amusement tax collected during the festival are to be remitted to the MMFF executive committee as a trustee of the funds for the festival beneficiaries.

The MMFF was launched in 1975 initially to raise money for low-income workers in the movie industry, mostly members of the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation (Mowelfund) Inc.

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But when management of the MMFF was turned over to the MMDA in 1986, the agency identified other beneficiaries that included the FAP, the Motion Picture Anti-Film Piracy Council (MPAFPC), the Optical Media Board (OMB), and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

According to the petition, the Mowelfund is supposed to receive half of the total proceeds; the FAP, 20 percent; the MPFAPC, 20 percent; and the FDCP and OMB, 5 percent each.

However, the FAP said, an Oct. 30, 2009, COA report on the MMFF funds for 2002 to 2008 cited several violations by the MMFF executive committee in the handling and disbursement of the funds.

The COA report said the MMFF executive committee had spent over P102 million in undocumented disbursements out of the total P216.6 million amusement tax proceeds of the film festival from 2002 to 2008, and released only over P130.3 million to the actual beneficiaries.

It also noted that the MMFF fund still had a balance of over P82.7 million in amusement tax proceeds from 2002 to 2008.

Being a trustee of the fund, the MMFF executive committee was supposed to hold the fund in trust and “for the benefit of herein peti tioners, so much so that a dereliction of this duty would amount to an actionable wrong,” the FAP said.

The group sought the court’s intervention, citing “the danger of continuous depletion of the MMFF fund while under the trust of herein respondents.”

The FAP asked the Quezon City court to issue a temporary restraining order and a subsequent writ of preliminary injunction on the NCAP, which is mandated to remit the proceeds of the amusement tax to the MMFF executive committee on Jan. 27, or 20 days after the last day of the 2013 film festival.

Reached for comment, MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino said he was not yet part of the MMDA during the years cited in the COA report quoted by the petition.

The MMDA chair during that period was Bayani Fernando.

Tolentino said he was appointed to the position only in 2010 after serving as mayor of Tagaytay City.

In a text message, the MMDA chief maintained that proceeds from the MMFF under his watch had gone to the right hands.

“Despite FAP’s criticism, we broke records this year, showing the support of the people for the MMFF,” he said.

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TAGS: amusement tax, FAP, film academy of the philippines, Leo Martinez, Metro Manila Film Festival, Movie Industry, Movies, Quezon City
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