Silencing the talents


A LONG time ago, in one of many conversations I would have with friends who were writing freelance for various magazines and publications, and sharing horror stories about missed checks and unpaid articles, I articulated how writers should come together and list down and call out these publications. The better to protect each other and begin the process of empowering ourselves in the face of creative abuse and exploitation.

It is at the heart of my continued insistence that there is a need for a real artists union in this country. One that protects member-writers, artists, illustrators, editors, musicians from abusive contractual employers, at the same time that it assures these contractors that employing union-artists will mean getting the service they ask for.

It is only in this country that the union is a scary thing. And it is not just scary for employers. In that conversation where I suggested coming up with a list of publications that do not pay on time, if at all, I was told: but then you’d be that person who squeals and you will never get hired again.

Fear is an insidious thing.

Silence as consent
It was in May of this year when I heard about the crisis over at GMA via employees who put up black profile pics on Facebook. Details were flimsy, about how GMA was requiring that contractual employees , called “talents,” provide receipts in order to get their checks for services rendered to the network (via, 3 May).

I thought it absurd: if you’re a contractual employee why would you need to issue receipts to get your payment? Isn’t your payment provided for within your contract, whatever the duration might be? And aren’t you in fact employee still, no matter that your existence within the institution is limited to a contract?

The social media campaign quieted down without any mainstream coverage, and certainly that had everything to do with fear as well: why would any other media company discuss this issue when it opens them up as well to queries about their own systems of employment?

Over on’s collected articles on the GMA case though, one realizes that the fight has continued since, with the network expectedly trying – and failing – to appease its talents.

What GMA was willing to give its talents was a Project Employment Contract (PEC). Via (Nov 22): “Under this, talents of the network will have similar benefits as that of regular employees. However, there’s a duration weighted in the said contract which states its start and end date. Also, talents will have to wait for a period of 3 months without pay and no guarantee of another show. Other benefits such as monthly rice subsidies and medicard are also exclusive only to executive producers.”

It is clear why the talents have said no to the PEC. They are far from being promised any security, nor all the benefits they have a right to. But it could only get worse. According to a report on (Nov 20) and various posts on buhaymedia, some of those who have refused to sign on for GMA’s PEC are being terminated from their jobs; some have been told that not signing on for the PEC will mean termination by year-end.

The silence of the on-cam network bigwigs on this issue is deafening.

Refuse the silence
I’m in awe of the group of GMA7 contractual workers who banded together to form the Talent Association of GMA (TAG).

Because it always takes an amount of daring to speak out about the conditions of one’s employment, especially when one does not have the benefit of tenure or security. Anyone who has lived as contractual employee would know how this state of employment also effectively silences: how do you speak when you risk losing your job? How do you speak when you hope that at some point you might get regularized, because it is what the law says for one thing, because you actually love what you do on the other?

And yes, you also learn to love the institution that you serve, no matter the realization that it might not be treating you well. In fact, the system is such that one is allowed to forget no social security benefits, no health card, when one is treated differently from the every-factory worker because one is given some overtime pay or night deferential, the Christmas bonus maybe, if not a food basket.

We are made to think of how so many other workers receive so much less, that receiving a fraction of what we actually have a right to is enough. In the context of the Philippines where we like to deny unemployment and underemployment to be true, what silences us is the truth that we can only be thankful to have jobs, no matter how horrid the conditions.

It’s also why a group like TAG is sadly so rare in this country. It’s why it can only be defined by its daring to speak, even when it means welcoming 2015 as part of the country’s unemployed.

TAG is showing us all what it means to be silent. It reveals why sometimes our right to speak is all we have.


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  1. Jaime Dela Cruz on

    A very good piece ms.Santiago. Part of the problem of exploitation is us, the people. Any company exploit to a certain degree. The one big contributing factor that perpetuates its practice is the lack of unity and the will to fight it by the workers. If all workers of companies, big and small, will form a TAG, an association, not necessarily a union, and let the company know that workers refuse to be taken advantaged, the practice of exploitation will eventually disappear. Management knows that for every one who quit or fired because they refuse to be exploited, there are thousands lined up to take on the job. And if we won’t learn to assert our rights as workers, then the “Silencing of talents” will continue.

  2. I continue to be saddened by the plight of workers in our country. What is more disconcerting is the trepidation to speak up not so much by the worker themselves but by leaders who are supposed to protect those who are being deprived of their livelihood. It appears that the only voice, I am hearing regarding this issue, is yours. It must be a lonely and isolating experience, one voice howling in the wilderness. Although to date, there are five people listening to you on record, I hope you continue to amplify this important problem which most people would rather dismiss or ignore. I am specially concerned about artists, people like you whose rights are being deliberately violated. Perhaps if this discordant voice to the powers that be is loud enough, they will listen. You can remove the lawyers, the soldiers, and politician in our population equation, and the country will continue to keep on turning. But remove the artists, you blot out the humanity of a culture. What differentiate an evolving country from one stuck in the Medieval era, is that an evolving country produces a people who is not afraid anymore, as someone suggested, of beauty and grace. In an evolving country brutalizing a person’s humanity by refusing a worker his or her fair wage is not a weapon of choice to compel him to toe the line. In fact, an evolving country and people do not only protect a dissenting voice but celebrates it. It would take an artist to usher in and welcome dissent. But if employers and political leaders continue to ignore and diminish the immense contribution artists afford society our country will languish back in the stone age. Continue to ring the bells of dissent. I join you and hopefully others will do too.

  3. The Philippines is not an open country. Too many things are controlled by the elite class. We are a developing country and that development is slowed or almost stopped to keep control. So workers continue to be under control and at the mercy of the elite class.

  4. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for your rights. Its usually someone who has already been terminated or shunned who is the 1st to stand up, & when asked why they didnt stand up before will explain about being afraid to lose thir job. Iunderstand it fully & there will always be people to jump into the place you lost & work for less, these unscrupulous employers take full advantage of this.
    But i also say to you look at all these young people who work in any supermarket you go in. They arnt employed by that supermarket & at age 27 they are finnished. But it doesnt seem to bother any of you that much. So dont get to upset if they also arnt to bothered about you & your problems. At least your pay whil;st writing is much much higher than their for their work.

    • I admire the members of TAG. They are standing up for what they believe in and despite being faced with possible unemployment come 2015, they continue to stand by their principles.

      Mr. Dustin, I understand where you’re coming from. But I raise several points to you:

      1. The people who work for supermarkets actually have benefits. My nephew started out as a contractual employee for SM Department Store. When he was still a contractual employee (back office), his PAG-IBIG, tax, and SSS were being paid by SM. The talents of GMA-7? They just deduct tax.

      2. Despite that tax deduction, the talents are still required to go to their respective RDOs because GMA-7 does not take care of the filing of income tax for them. How’s that for confusing?

      3. And oh, the employees of SM, contractual or regular, earns OT pay when they render work outside of their usual work hours. Talents? Its OTY.

      4. I guarantee you, no worker of supermarkets go beyond 2 years without being regularized. GMA however has several talents who have been serving and winning awards for the company for several years and they still sign contracts every six months or so.

      I think the comparison is way out of line. But that’s not to say that I think mall employees do not deserve proper compensation, because they do. EVERYONE deserves to be paid accordingly.