‘Na bulaga pa rin’ – still surprised

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

In spite of the very public disagreements and prophecies of doom, people were still surprised that the longest running noontime show in Philippine broadcast history got shut down or, in the account of one of the hosts, got shut out – literally. In local lingo: “Na bulaga pa rin.”

Some may have assumed that “Eat Bulaga” was too big to fail. From a business standpoint, it certainly did not make sense to throw out the baby with the bath water unless the new owners had something better to replace it with. We can only assume that it was a clash over cash, character and culture more than a difference of opinion.

But let’s all refocus on the “Na bulaga pa rin” observation.

Perhaps it is in our human nature to assume that all will go well even when the signs, the rumors or even the writing is on the wall. Before the Eat Bulaga trio were shut out of “their” show, I came across the vlog of Bernadette Sembrano, who shared her thoughts and feelings about once again being out of a job or retrenched at ABS-CBN.

In the world that is Philippine media, the harsh truth is that it is not enough to do your job. In some cases, you could get into trouble for doing your job, you could simply be an innocent bystander in the room and become collateral damage, like many Channel 2 employees, or someone’s greed and blind ambition might cause your displacement from a program or a job.

Someone might want your job or want a program to succeed at any cost, including “throwing them under the bus.” You could also be labeled or grouped with the “enemy” simply because, as a media person, you keep the doors open for all, while others have their colors and allegiance.

If you find the right “Maritess” in media, I am sure you will hear of well-known individuals who were made to REPORT IN PERSON to an offended tycoon or taipan because of comments or opinions expressed on the air, even if they were fact and truth. One even went as far as bending the knee in order to keep his job.

On the opposite end, a host who managed to invite and interview a King Maker in his home station ended up being branded as a “loyalist” and ostracized. No matter how well liked his program was, he and his team were treated as mere content producers and time-fillers, low budget and no acknowledgments.

As far as being “shut out” goes, I remember losing two shows in 30 minutes within a distance of 50 meters and witnesses state that I was merely collateral damage. I was co-hosting a radio program with a well-known economist who was calling out a businessman on tax obligations. After several days of including the subject matter in the program, Friday rolled around and the show’s executive producers sheepishly told us that the radio station will be doing a “reformatting.”

Translation: You have just been pulled out of a show. A senior executive decided to get rid of my co-host even before anyone complained, and I was in the “blast zone” because someone wanted to take over the primetime program on radio. I shrugged my shoulders and walked on to the TV studio nearby where I did my two-minute editorial for the morning show and right after my spiel, the floor director came over and once again used the magic words: “We will be doing a reformatting.”

As I went through that, I took comfort in a prophetic message I received that said: “In losing everything you will have only me. But in having me, you will have everything,” so I coasted along, doing side hustles and trusting in God’s provision.

I remember someone once referring to a TV station as a snake pit that gave him all the needed training to be in government or public office. The public often has the impression that TV shows fold up or talents leave because the program was not rating or was unprofitable. That is not usually the case. People just avoid saying or admitting or mentioning the word “fired,” because it complicates an already one-sided industry reality.

How can you be “fired” if you were not officially “hired?” Talents are self-employed individuals placed on a list by a production team. We provide services, we are not employed. That’s the loop hole the DOLE keeps a blind eye on. You lose a show, or you have been reformatted. You are never fired because firing someone also has legal and labor implications.

In media, especially broadcast, you don’t even get your “walking papers” or pink slips. You hear whispers. The worst period I can recall when I was in ABS-CBN was during a time when the way people would find out they no longer had a show or were out of a job was from “Maritess.” Even bosses were such cowards that they just spread the rumors or sent a production assistant or EP to do their dirty work. Sadly, the faithful few who were left behind at ABS-CBN as well as Eat Bulaga now read about their loss on social media and the news.

In my days as a kid, I used to watch the TV show “The Lone Ranger” and his sidekick Tonto, who was an exceptional tracker. He knew what was coming or where someone had gone, and he did this by watching the horizon for signs and placing his ear close to the ground. That explains why “si Maritess, hindi na bulaga.”

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