By Lena Strait Pareja
(Second of two parts)
Following their successful move to shift the Manila Film Festival playdate from June to December where the Christmas and New Year holidays spelled bigger box office returns for an all-Filipino 10-day movie festival, it was time to elect a new president for PMPPA. The overwhelming choice was the incumbent Manay Ichu who was not keen on a second term but was nevertheless endorsed by two “heavyweight” stalwarts and former PMPPA presidents: Joseph Estrada and Fernando Poe, Jr.
Estrada, who in the next decade would become president of the Philippine Republic, was most eloquent in his speech citing the unification of the entire movie industry as Manay Ichu’s greatest achievement in her first term as PMPPA president.
“For the past nineteen years,” he said, “we have always talked about unity, but it has all been words. Last June 14, 1981 , you saw with your own two eyes that the whole industry was united – something that had never before happened in the whole history of the movie industry.
“Her sufferings, her superhuman sacrifices, and her unselfishness have caused the neglect of her own company and even her own finances. I know that it is unjust and unfair to ask her to serve another term. It would be like asking her to be burned at the stakes once more. But I personally feel that there is no one, absolutely no one in our ranks, not even myself, who is qualified to continue the work. And so we must personally assert our individual full support for her if we must ask her to serve another term.“
Manay Ichu did serve her second term during which she faced another big challenge from the 1000-plus members of the Actors’ Guild.
The rift among the leaders of the Actors’ Guild had threatened the unity of the movie workers themselves. To resolve this, Manay Ichu prevailed upon its most popular but reluctant guild member, Fernando Poe Jr., to run for the presidency of the Actors’ Guild. FPJ had to talk to practically every important member of the guild before he finally acceded to their request. He won by an overwhelming vote.
Manay Ichu has had her share of ups-and-downs as a movie producer but her blood continues to pulsate with love for the cinema despite monumental headaches and personal heartaches. While her more aggressive colleagues, directors and stars took to the streets to battle for the eradication of high taxes, oppressive censorship, and film piracy, she chose to work behind the scenes devoting much of her time, talent and energies to planning and programming legislative bills and executive orders to give industry people those benefits and reforms that would last more than just a lifetime.
Censorship has always been the bane of local film production but more so during the martial law years because of the policy of prior restraint initiated by the generals in the Board of Censors. A movie script was required to be submitted to the censors before any filming could be made. To show that there was no need for prior restraint, and that movie producers could exercise self-censorship within the industry itself, Manay Ichu established their own version of a review and classification board inside the Sampaguita Studio compound to serve as a model. Industry members like producer-director Eddie Romero (who later became National Artist for Film) and scriptwriter-director Nestor U. Torre of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino headed the RCB and proved that “classification” instead of “cutting or censoring films” produced better results.
When martial law was lifted in the 1980s, reforms were instituted which led to the establishment of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board or MTRCB as it is known today.
Then and now, oppressive taxation was the biggest problem of the movie industry. When nothing could be done to lower the taxes, Manay Ichu turned the problem around so that incentives in the form of amusement tax rebates would instead be given to producers of quality films. This led to the establishment in 1982 of the Film Ratings Board headed by Marcos Roces under the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. After ECP closed down during the EDSA uprising, President Fidel Ramos revived the FRB under the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. headed by Cirio H. Santiago. Today it is known as the Cinema Evaluation Board.
Manay Ichu also established a Film Fund under Imee Marcos’ E.C.P. which helped to finance the production of Filipino film classics like Ishmael Bernal’s Himala , Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata, and Lamberto Avellana’s Waywaya.
The 20-year odyssey that Manay Ichu undertook to combat high taxes and later, film piracy, has resulted in the creation of the Videogram Regulatory Board and the passage of several bills that have become laws: Republic Act No. 9167 (on film ratings) and Act 3883 as amended by Act 4147 and Republic Act No. 863 (on film piracy) which are now being implemented nationwide, slowly but surely.
Last but not least is her achievement with the International Film Festival Committee (IFFCOM) to enable Philippine films to participate in international film festivals here and abroad so that people all over the world can truly appreciate Filipino films. In this effort, Manay Ichu was ably given tremendous support by the government subsidy initiated by Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr.
During the past decade when there was a hiatus in her movie production activities, she devoted her time to the television production of her sister Gina de Venecia’s Pira-Pirasong Pangarap, which took up the cause of the less fortunate women in this country. She also helped Gina, who is president of the Congressional Spouses Foundation, Inc. (CSFI) establish with the help of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), The Haven, a Center for Abused and Battered Women, not only in Metro-Manila but also in other regions of the Philippines.
When asked if she has any plans to continue making pictures in the future, Manay Ichu answers in the affirmative.
“Motion pictures pervade every aspect of Filipino life. It is such a potent weapon for good, for the dissemination of right thinking and fair values.
“If we make good films, then we can be competitive in the mainstream of movie-making not only in this country but throughout the world. With the advances in technology, excellent films cost money and that , we do not have. We are in disarray because of lack of funds, not because we lack the talent for making good and exceptional films.
“It is so sad that an industry, or a sector of our human activity in culture and the arts, should fold up because of taxes that are too high, or government incentives that are too low to support the making of good motion pictures.
“But I am confident that this unfortunate state of affairs is only temporary. This, too, shall pass. We shall emerge stronger after our ordeals. What binds us together as one is our love for the cinema and the grand design that remains our vision. Right now we cannot even see the light at the end of the tunnel. But when you hit rock bottom, there is no other way to go but UP.
“We shall prevail because – in the words of that great mentor of stage and screen, Zeneida Amador, who was our colleague in all our struggles for a better Philippine cinema – it was she who said that, ‘ Filipino talent is second to none.’ And they need all our support.”