Why Mel Tiangco Lost Appeal vs. ABS-CBN Before Supreme Court

It highlights rights of talents compared to employees.
Photo/s: Composite image of photo by Jerome Ascano, GMA News YouTube screen capture

The Supreme Court said Friday it denied broadcaster Mel Tiangco's appeal against her former employer, ABS-CBN, in a decision that highlighted the difference in benefits between full-time employees and talents or contractors.

The high tribunal said it upheld a Court of Appeals decision that approved a partial settlement between Tiangco and ABS-CBN in December 2011 and denied the GMA Network star anchor's petition for a review of her case.

In 1996, ABS-CBN dismissed Tiangco for violating a network rule barring news personalities from appearing in commercials. Tiangco, one of the founding anchors of the network's flagship newscast TV Patrol, said she had secured permission from her bosses to endorse Tide laundry detergent.

EXPLAINER: Why ABS-CBN, GMA are the Philippines' Two Major TV Networks

Under the December 2011 partial settlement that was upheld by the Court of Appeals, Tiangco received her salary covering the suspension period, 13th month pay and travel allowance, the Supreme Court said.

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This prompted Tiangco to elevate the case to the Supreme Court for review. However, the court said that as a talent, not an employee of ABS-CBN, she was not entitled to separation pay, damages and reimbursement of attorney's fees.

Talent vs. employee

Philippine laws allow companies to hire workers as full time employees, meaning they are entitled to health and retirement benefits, 13th month pay, paid leaves and periodic or merit-based salary increases; or as talents or contractuals, who may get more or less compared to tenured workers and whose employment is often tied to a certain project.

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In broadcasting, on-camera talents such as anchors and entertainers are often hired as talents, with their tenures tied to their lifespan of their programs. Such was the case for Tiangco, an independent contractor for ABS-CBN, said the high tribunal.

"There is no inflexible rule to determine if a person is an employee or independent contractor. Thus, the characterization of the relationship must be based on the particular circumstances of each case," the court said.

Tiangco's style and delivery of the news "is distinctly her own", which qualifies her as a talent, who is hired for a particular skill, the court said. 

"Her voice, stature, aura and representation form part of the unique qualities that impelled ABS-CBN to pick her for the job," the court said.

Tiangco reading the news "is not the same as an ordinary person reading the same news," the court said.

As a "TV Patrol" veteran, Tiangco helped give birth to the post-martial law TV newscasts, delivering the news beside Noli "Kabayan" de Castro, Frankie "Ka Kiko" Evangelista and Angelique Lazo.

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So successful is her brand that until the birth of "24 Oras in 2004", she solo-anchored the eponymous early evening newscast on GMA, "Frontpage: Ulat ni Mel Tiangco."

Technically, Tiangco can file an appeal before the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, but it is rare for the high tribunal to reverse itself.

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