MANILA, Philippines – An official of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) owns a company that promoted two movies that participated – and won – in the festival, a House investigation on Monday, January 11, showed.
At a House of Representatives hearing on Monday, a conflict of interest issue was raised against Dominic Du, a member of the MMFF Executive Committee, in relation to his company and the committee's decision to disqualify Honor Thy Father from the festival's 2015 Best Picture category.
At the hearing held to discuss alleged irregularities in the 2015 MMFF, Laguna Representative Dan Fernandez asked Du about his business. (READ: MMFF 2015 clarifies 'Honor Thy Father' disqualification)
Du, who has been an ExeCom member for 8 years, admitted owning Axinite Digicinema Inc, a distributor of foreign films. His income, he said, depends on the gross earnings of the films he releases.
The lawmaker disclosed that Axinite promoted two of the 2015 MMFF films on its Facebook page: Walang Forever and Buy Now Die Later.
Walang Forever won Best Picture, and Buy Now Die Later won Second Best Picture – the category that MMFF entry Honor Thy Father was disqualified just a day before the awards night.
The two films were also produced by Quantum Films' Joji Alonso, who happens to be a legal counsel of Du, according to Representative Fernandez, who called for the House probe and played a supporting role in Honor Thy Father.
Du initially denied that Axinite Digicinema released Walang Forever, and that he was associated with any of the producers in the MMFF.
However, Fernandez showed a letter dated 2014, from the law firm Alonso and Associates, Inc, which referred to Du as their client. Alonso is a managing partner at the law firm.
Du did not comment further on the issue.
Instructions to jurors
At the hearing, members of the the MMFF 2015 Board of Jurors admitted to lawmakers that it was Du and MMFF ExeCom member Marichu Maceda who told them on December 21, 2015 not to consider Honor Thy Father for the Best Picture category because it had been disqualified. (READ: 'Honor Thy Father' disqualified from MMFF 2015 Awards Best Picture category)
Juror Carmen Musngi said, "While we were doing the deliberation on the 3rd night [of deliberations], we were talking about the first category, which was the Best Picture. When we were talking about the Best Picture, Mr Dominic Du and Marichu suddenly said don't put in Honor Thy Father because it's disqualified."
Two other jurors present at the hearing backed up Musngi's story.
In a controversial move, the MMFF disqualified Honor Thy Father from the Best Picture category of the festival on December 26, a day before the awards night, citing a technicality. According to the MMFF, the producers did not inform the committee that their movie would be screened as the opening film at the Cinema One Film Festival on November 8.
Maceda said they told the jurors not to include Honor Thy Father in the Best Picture category to avoid bias. "We did not want the members of the jury to feel any bias against Honor Thy Father insofar as the other categories were concerned," said Maceda. "Because we felt very strongly that the sanction was only done on the producer and not to the other members of the movie."
Honor Thy Father producers earlier said that they informed the MMFF about the Cinema One screening as early as November 6. Thus the last-minute decision to take the movie out of contention in the Best Picture award was unfair, they added.
Maceda explained the delay: "When we received the letter [from the producers] November 6... it took us one month before the Special [Working] Commitee and the Rules Committee met. At that time. we did not want to bother the newly appointed chairman, and there were so many other [things scheduled]."
The newly appointed chairman is Emerson Carlos, who replaced Francis Tolentino after he quit in October 2015.
Erik Matti's reaction
After the House hearing, Honor Thy Father director Erik Matti said that they had already suspected that a committee member was connected to one of the producers, but couldn't prove it.
"We felt that there was something that was going on. Why Best Picture of all awards, when we all know in the past, pag may award ka sa (if you have an award in) Best Picture, Best Director, ganun, yung mga malalaking (those, the big) awards, it gets a good showing at the box office. It could help your film make money," he said.
Matti also said that although the investigation isn't over yet, it looks like things are going well.
"Coming in, ninenerbiyos nga kami if there's anything that's gonna come out of this kasi, isipin mo... 'di naman madali lang magreklamo diba, na malalaking tao ang mga kinakausap mo, kinukwestiyon, matataas ang posisyon nila sa gobyerno, so... takot kami na wala ring mapuntahan 'to ano," said Matti. "Pero nagpasalamat kami sa Congress, with the congressmen present, na they followed through and they asked the right questions. Maganda so far and sana magtuloy-tuloy toh na okay yung mga discussions."
(Coming in, we were nervous about whether anything was going to come out of this, because if you think about it... it's not easy to complain when you're big people, questioning them, people with high positions in government, so... we were afraid that this wasn't going to come to anything. But we're thankful to the Congress, with the congressment present, that they followed through and asked the right questions. It's been good so far, and I hope the discussions continue.)