Losing, learning from Eddie Garcia
The death of distinguished actor-director Eddie Garcia at 90 deprives Philippine entertainment of a paragon and role model very sorely needed by today’s generation of actors and performing artists.
After making his first film in 1950 in National Artist for Cinema Manuel Conde’s “Siete Infantes de Lara,” Garcia went on to make more than 650 movies and TV dramas as actor or director — or both.
He was always at the top of his game so that even in coma and in his deathbed, he received his second best actor award from the Gawad Urian given by hard-to-please film critics on June 18.
A popular-culture icon much like the late comedian Dolphy and action star Fernando Poe Jr., Garcia had been in the business for exactly 70 years (1949-2019); and since he was particularly noted for his robust resilience, he had been expected to thrive for another decade or more.
But while shooting an outdoor action scene on the set of a forthcoming drama series by GMA, Garcia tripped and the bad fall resulted in a severe cervical spinal fracture, which proved fatal in the end. It could be said Eddie Garcia died with his boots on.
The question now is whether the accident could have been avoided. Labor observers seem to agree there had been an occupational safety lapse somewhere. It is reported that the shooting took place on rugged terrain in Tondo and Garcia, a nonagenarian, was made to run on uneven ground. Moreover, cables were haphazardly strewn across, so that his feet reportedly got tangled in them, causing his very bad fall.
Perhaps even worse, considering GMA was shooting an action scene, where violence is supposedly realistically mimicked and accidents are rife, there was no medical team around. It is for these reasons that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has ordered an inquiry. He has also asked the Occupational Health and Safety Center to check if movie and TV companies are observing occupational regulations.
Because Eddie Garcia is a celebrated figure, his death may be an early test case for the relevance of Republic Act No. 11058, or the occupation safety and health (OSW) law, which was passed only last August.
Federation of Free Workers vice president Julius Cainglet has pointed out that movie and TV work sites are covered by the law. “The new OSH law should be taken seriously,” he said. “It is not intended for the manufacturing and construction industries only. It is intended for implementation and application in all industries, show biz included.”
Meanwhile the Directors Guild of the Philippines Inc. (DGPI), which counts Garcia among its members, has pointed out the larger view of the matter. In the run-up to Garcia’s untimely demise, there had been complaints about the allegedly horrible working conditions especially in TV dramas, such as 24-hour shooting days to save on costs and network bosses prioritizing diva actors, almost always young, who would come to work late or not come at all, wrecking production schedules as a result.
Since 2016, popular TV directors Wenn Deramas, Gilbert Perez and Francis Pasion have died from cardiac arrest that could conceivably have been caused by stressful work conditions on TV. DGPI said Garcia’s death was “a sad and urgent reminder to the film and television industries that safety and health protocols at work and on set are of paramount importance.”
Newly elected 1-Pacman party list Rep. Michael Romero, Garcia’s stepson, has sought to address this problem by filing what he calls the “Actors Occupational Safety and Health Standard Bill.” Romero, a businessman and the son of Garcia’s long-time partner, Lilibeth Lagman Romero, said the bill would be his first in the forthcoming new Congress and he expected Senate President Tito Sotto, also an actor, to come up with a Senate counterpart.
This is well and good, but it is hoped the proposed law would broaden its coverage and include other movie and TV workers as well. In the first place, even more than actors and celebrities, ordinary show biz workers are most vulnerable to occupational health and safety shortcuts.
Universally well-liked and much respected, Garcia was a professional noted for his sensitivity to the needs of the crew and other workers on the set. If what happened were to result in occupational reform and the overall improvement in the welfare of all workers, and not only performers, in show biz, then his passing would not have been in vain.
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