Anyone who’s ever worked in television will recount to you the horrors of working on set, including the high levels of stress that goes into production. But just where do we cross the line between “It’s just work, nothing personal” and impinging on someone’s dignity?
Rossellyn Domingo is a freelance actress with a background in theater, and currently does television work by way of bit roles, or extras as they are normally known as. Her biggest acting role at the time was for the hit series “Forevermore” that launched Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil into superstardom, as Celia, one of the villagers in La Presa.
The open letter detailed Director Cathy Garcia-Molina’s alleged behavior towards bit players on set, and even included a copy of the original letter of complaint addressed to Cory Vidanes, Channel Head of ABS-CBN on the treatment of Rossellyn’s boyfriend, an academic and a professor, who ended up substituting one of the bit actors.
As the letter detailed, one of the bosses in ABS-CBN replied to the letter, saying that the popular director was “known for cursing in the set” and that this was her way of coping with the high-stress environment that goes into taping.
Below is the text in full as posted on Rossellyn’s Facebook page:
Isang Open Letter kay Direk Cathy Garcia Molina.
Nanood po ako ng Walang Forever at nakita ko kayo nang ilang segundo sa umpisa ng pelikula. Naroon pa rin pala ang sama ng loob ko sa inyo na ayaw ko nang dalhin pa sa 2016. Hinintay ko po talagang matapos ang “A Second Chance” bago ko kayo sulatan para makaiwas sa kontrobersya, baka kasi sabihin niyo, paninira lamang ito para maapektuhan ang kita ng inyong bagong pelikula..Nakasama niyo po ako sa Forevermore. Gumanap ako bilang Celia na asawa ni Makoy na naninirahan sa La Presa. Noong nagkita tayo sa La Presa, kinilig ako. Sa wakas, sabi ko, makakatrabaho ko na rin ang direktor ng One More Chance. Tatlong buwan na akong nag-eekstra sa mga teleserye noon at masasabi ko na ang Forevermore ang biggest project na nakuha ko. Bata pa lamang ako, hilig ko na ang pag-arte. Nakailang theater acting workshop ako bago ko sinubukan na umekstra sa telebisyon. Mahal kong talaga ang pag-arte kaya hangga’t kaya kong isingit (mayroon kaming travel agency), pinipilit kong tumanggap ng mga papel na gagampanan sa mga teleserye. Nagsimula ako bilang bahagi ng mga crowd. Hindi nagtagal, naglilinya na rin ako..Sa Forevermore ako unang nagkaroon ng pangalan. Ako si Celia. Tuwang-tuwa ako noon dahil sa oportunidad na nabuksan sa akin. Sayang at ilang araw lang akong nanatili sa La Presa. Hindi kasi kaya ng sikmura ko ang pagmumura niyo sa mga ekstra. Sagad sa buto. Napakasakit para sa akin na mura-murahin niyo nang pauli-ulit ang boyfriend ko sa harap ng maraming tao. Nakatatak sa alaala ko ang mga ngisi at tawanan ng mga staff at cameramen niyo kapag nagpapakawala kayo ng mga mura. Hindi niyo alam kung gaanong iginagalang ng napakaraming tao ang “ekstrang” minura-mura at ipinahiya ninyo..Sabi ng mga nakakakilala sa inyo, wala raw personalan, stressed ka lang, ganoon talaga. Unawain ka na lang. Ayon nga sa isang boss niyo sa ABS-CBN na sumagot sa amin sa email, “you are known for cursing in the set” at iyon raw ang paraan niyo ng pag-cope sa stress ng inyong trabaho. Ganoon ba talaga ‘pag stressed? Dapat kang maging insensitive sa damdamin ng ibang tao para guminhawa ang pakiramdam mo?.Ako na ang naglakas-loob na gumawa ng open letter dahil alam kong may kasalanan rin ako sa nangyari. Hindi sana ako pumayag na sumalang siya sa ilang eksena bilang substitute ng dapat ay kapareha ko. Pero pwede bang sumama kayo na humingi ng paumanhin para mapayapa na ang aming isip at loob? Marahil alam niyo na noon na may na-offend kayong tao pero wala lang kayong pakialam dahil kayo si Direk Cathy G. O baka sakali, hindi lang kayo aware sa bigat ng inyong nagawa, kahit isang taon na kaming nagfa-follow up sa ABS-CBN at ilang beses na ring napangakuan na paghaharap-harapin tayo..Narito po ang buong complaint na ipinadala namin noong Oktubre 2014. Sana sa pamamagitan nito, maunawaan niyo ang tindi at bigat ng gaspang ng ugali na ipinakita niyo. Bilang isang edukadong tao (pareho kayong UP graduate ng boyfriend ko, doon na rin siya nagtuturo ngayon) naniniwala akong malalaman niyo ang tama at mabuting gawin para iwasto ang inyong maling nagawa..Sana magkita na po tayo soon para makapagpatawaran tayo… sa tamang panahon.——October 22, 2014Ma. Socorro V. VidanesHead, BroadcastABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.Quezon City.Dear Ms. Vidanes:.Good day. I am Alvin D. Campomanes, a historian and educator. I am a product of Paref Southridge School and the University of the Philippines (UP), where I graduated cum laude in 2008. Currently, I am a faculty member of the Department of History of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) and the Department of General Education of Enderun Colleges. I have taught history in Miriam College High School, Assumption College and San Beda College Alabang. Among the young historians, I am one of those who are often invited by leading networks for interviews during historical commemorations. For ABS-CBN, I have granted interviews on Dateline Philippines (ANC) and Umagang kay Ganda. I was also one of the resource persons in the documentary Ninoy sa Puso ng Pinoy (2011).I write this letter to protest the indignities that I have suffered as a talent in a location shooting of Forevermore from October 6-7, 2014..My girlfriend, who has a background in theater, was recruited for that television soap by a talent coordinator named John Leonardo. I accompanied her to Baguio City. However, her talent manager, who was supposed to be her partner, failed to arrive in the set. John, perhaps out of desperation and fear that he will be reprimanded by his superiors for failing in his responsibility, took me in as a substitute. He was fully aware that I am an academic, that I had no previous acting experience. Although I was very reluctant, I yielded to his request because he said that it will be finished in a day; that I was only needed for two sequences. I made it clear to him that I intend to return to my hotel room as soon as possible because I had a lot of paperwork to finish. He agreed. My girlfriend and I played the roles of “Celia” and “Makoy” respectively. John did not even bother to introduce us to the directors..On the first taping day, October 6, director Cathy Garcia Molina led the prayer before we started our work. The prayerful director said that the soap is meant to “entertain” and “teach values” to its viewers. I recoil when I remember how her behavior toward bit players and those who work behind the camera so brazenly contradicted her pious pronouncements. Her hypocrisy was disconcerting to watch. She was servile to Luz Fernandez, courteous to Joe Gruta, solicitous to Liza Soberano, and friendly to Joey Marquez and Irma Adlawan. Liza committed a lot of mistakes in delivering simple lines, but the director shielded her from criticism. She never uttered anything that could embarrass the young actress. This sensitiveness to the feelings of others however, was selective; it was only for stars and veteran actors..The “Romantic Comedy Queen” instructs talents by shouting, insulting, and spitting all sorts of curses. She is a character straight out of the Noli. She is subservient to the wealthy and the powerful like Capitan Tiago, despotic like Padre Damaso and despicably pretentious like Padre Salvi and Doña Victorina. In a rehearsal take on the morning of the first day, she shouted at my girlfriend three times: “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah! Ikaw! Anong pangalan mo?!” There was a delay in her reaction because her character’s name was Celia, not Sarah. But a queen like Cathy cannot admit her mistake. I experienced the same treatment before sundown. My girlfriend and I both remember that Cathy said “putang ina” to her once on that day..Work resumed after dinner. It was already past ten in the evening. I was already disoriented. I was thinking of all the teaching-related tasks that I need to accomplish before I return to Manila the next day. I found the director’s instructions vague and I misunderstood some of them..I was verbally abused.“Putang ina! Ang hirap turuan!” “’Kinang ina!”“Pakshet ka, Makoy!”At that point, I remember Joey Marquez spared me from further humiliation by coaching me on how to position my body for that particular scene. I believe he was uncomfortable seeing me endure all those hurtful remarks, aware as he was that his daughter Winwyn was my student in San Beda. As a matter of prudence, I struggled to maintain my composure. I did not want to engage a woman who is almost as old as my parents in a shouting match. I am the better person. I was raised well by my parents. I was formed well by my teachers. I am an educator. I had the moral ascendancy..While we were inside the van on our way to the hotel on the first night, I heard one of the young talents ask John if she can leave the next day because she needed to attend an orientation for new Jollibee employees. He refused. He so arrogantly told the young lady that he will just “write an excuse letter saying she has a taping for ABS-CBN.” Who is this man to prevent her from attending an orientation for a regular job? What authority does he have to write an excuse letter for her? He is not her guardian! I also remember one instance when I was repelled by the vulgarity of this man. I was there beside him when he said this to a talent, a woman in her early 20s: “Sinong jowa mo, yung tomboy? Bakit? Nagjojowa ka ng tomboy? Gusto mo ba yun, pinepenggay ka? Pero naranasan mo na magpatusok ng titi sa lalaki?” The woman, although violated, forced to smile. He said these nasty things in front of the younger sisters of the woman, who were both teenagers..We were told that we have to go back to finish a sequence. That night, despite my exhaustion, I had difficulty sleeping because of the questions that assailed my mind. The question that troubled me most was this: had the production staff known that I am an academic, would they have treated us with respect? But they did not have to know my background before they respect us..We barely had four hours of sleep but we woke up very early. I asked myself if I can still continue in that kind of exploitative environment. I steeled myself. I did not want to cause inconvenience to the actors, who had been very good to us. Out of concern for the program, I decided to stay to finish what I have started. But things did not get better on the second day, October 7..Before the taping started, the director huddled with the main actors to give them instructions. Our talent coordinator reminded us not to join them unless we are told to do so. He never allowed us to mingle with them. Suddenly, I heard the director was looking for me so I raised my hand. Obviously irked, she said: “Makoy! Nasan ka ba Makoy, san ka ba lagi nagpupunta?! Artista kita, ‘di ba!” My girlfriend defended me by saying the truth, that the talent coordinator always separated us from the main actors. “Bakit niyo pinapahiwalay, eh mga artista ko ‘tong mga ‘to?” I found her statement ridiculous because she rests and eats with the actors and she never looked for us! We never joined the actors in their tent or their table..In another scene, I stood where the assistant director told me to stand. But I accidentally blocked a fellow actor. The director screamed: “sapaw ka, Makoy, ano ba!” The assistant director quickly recognized his mistake, admitted he was the one who placed me there. He instructed me to move a bit to the left so I will not block the view of the actor who was supposed to deliver a punchline. It should be emphasized, for the sake of comparison, that this assistant director we knew as “Sir Barry” did more work than Cathy, most of the time, under the scorching heat of the sun. But he was always patient in teaching actors where to stand, how to react, what to say. He always answered our questions. He never swore. He never degraded any one of us..The taping dragged on until the afternoon of the second day. In the story, my character was leaving to seek better opportunities abroad. We were shooting a parting scene. I was saying goodbye to my wife and son and to the people of our village. As with the first day, I committed mistakes in blocking. I was denigrated again by the director. I remember her shouting the following: “Makoy! Nasaan ang camera mo!” “Tang ina!”and “Alam mo, ikaw, inutil ka.” I saw how people in the production staff grinned and laughed at me. The director did not tell them to stop. I was no star like Liza Soberano. My girlfriend tried to coach me, but a woman named Ms. Jeng said “Celia, nagbibigay ng instructions kay Makoy, wag kang makisali.” It was the first time that I was shamed in front of people. I finished that scene despite the mental and emotional anguish..I kept on asking John if there are still sequences to be shot on that day. I reminded him of our agreement. Instead of being grateful that I stayed for another day, he told me this: “Ang kulit-kulit mo! Galit na galit si direk sa ‘yo.” I answered him politely: “Alam mo namang hindi ko linya ito, first time kong umarte sa telebisyon.” He immediately retorted with a rudeness that I will remember for a long time: “Ay nako! kahit na!” We approached Jeng to ask if I can leave because I have an early class the next morning. This woman frowned and told us “dapat nag-usap muna kayong dalawa bago kayo dumiretso sa ‘kin!” She turned her back and walked away. It was then that I realized how much pain bit players got through when they negotiate the whims of power dispensers in location shooting. The blatant contrast of how stars are treated like royalty while bit players are abused to the hilt is enough to enrage anyone..Hours passed. It was already dark and I was still in the set, waiting for an advice. I noticed that even those in the production staff were unaware if we still have scenes for that day. Why? Because they were working without a script! I was very tensed because of the uncertainties. We were told to return to the hotel. Had I been informed earlier, I would have left in the afternoon. But John was nowhere to be found. I felt betrayed..When we arrived at the hotel, I received a call from him: “Ay, ano nga uling pangalan mo? Alvin! May isang sequence pa raw na ishu-shoot sa umaga, pwede bang umabsent ka na lang sa trabaho mo?” I was shaking with anger. I told him that I have already given him two days when what we agreed on was only one day. He even had the temerity and the gall to ask me to be absent in my class and pay the amount that I will lose from my absence! I was incensed by this man’s callousness. I am a conscientious teacher and no amount of money can blind me. He met his match because I am a talent that cannot be bought. Perhaps it was the first time that he encountered talents that cannot be fooled by promises of fame and money. We decided to leave Baguio that night. My girlfriend also dropped her role. I still attended my class in the morning..In the ABS-CBN website, we can read the core values that the company holds sacred: meritocracy, excellence, teamwork, teaching and learning, honesty, integrity and respect, and service orientation. Under honesty, integrity and respect, it is stated that ABS-CBN employees “possess an unshakeable belief in one’s self-worth and dignity”; that “they never undermine others for their own gain”; that “they consistently treat others respectfully and fairly”. This makes me cringe because I have met people who had made a mockery of these core values..When I related to my friends who work for news programs of ABS-CBN what I had experienced, they all replied that “it is just the way things are”. They all say that it is the “culture” in the local television and film industry. One of my friends even told me that maybe it was just a case of culture shock because in the academe, people conduct themselves very politely..But this is not the culture that ABS-CBN is so proud about. Consider this passage in the network’s website:For us in ABS-CBN, our core values serve as our anchor and guidepost. They keep us grounded and remind us of the things that matter more than ratings, revenues, and profits. They guide us in our decision-making and direct our choices and actions..Our core values, with clearly articulated behavioral indicators, define what the ABS-CBN culture is and what kind of people would thrive in our organization.”(emphasis mine).Following Weber, eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973, 5) defined culture as the “webs of significance that man himself has spun”. Culture is man-made. It is not fixed. It is not constant. It can be changed. If we are aware that in this prevailing system nameless and voiceless people are being oppressed, then we as moral individuals are obliged to correct this system! If it is possible for power wielders to respect the rich and the famous, why is it so hard to do this for the lowly and the marginalized? These bit role players are also the ones who patronize the television soaps and movies that the big networks are producing..We are so used to television networks exposing corruption in government. But there is also much to be exposed in the rotten system of talent recruitment for television and film. For example, do networks really know how much are the talents being paid for long hours of work? In a system devoid of transparency, bit players cannot even know how many middle men are taking cuts from their pittance..Let this outcry be a challenge to the integrity of ABS-CBN. I am calling on the network to prove to all of us that your core values are more important than “ratings, revenues, and profits.” I demand disciplinary action on Cathy Garcia Molina, Jeng and John Leonardo. If justice will not be served, if this plea will not be heeded, then it only means that your company condones the uncivil behavior of your people because they bring in “ratings, revenues and profits”. In her opening prayer, Cathy claimed that it was impossible for her not to get mad and offend people. However, she also said that she is confident that at the end of the day, everything will be okay, because we are a family. Is this how you treat a kapamilya? We never experienced verbal abuse in our homes! I also demand an apology from the little gods that have offended me..I am aware that through this complaint, I am articulating the silent rage of all the extras and behind-the-camera workers who had been abused and dehumanized. I know I am not alone in this battle. For my part, I have resolved to act and set an example. If I fail, at least, it is not for lack of trying. While we were on our way to Manila, I could still hear the voice of Cathy Garcia Molina inside my ears, mocking me, berating me. I want you to know that up to this day, I am still being haunted by the thought that I was not able to defend myself. The emotional and mental torture is terrific..I do not ask for mercy. I demand justice..“The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”– Edmund Burke“There are no tyrants where there are no slaves.”– Jose Rizal“Maitim man o maputi ang kulay ng balat, lahat ng tao’y magkakapantay, mangyaring ang isa’y higtan sa dunong, sa yaman, sa ganda, ngunit hindi mahihigitan sa pagkatao.”– Emilio Jacinto.Sincerely yours,Alvin D. Campomanes