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In a ‘Liza Soberano’ state of mind: ‘Utang na loob’ vs desire for change, growth

By Grace Diez Published Mar 04, 2023 10:51 pm Updated Mar 09, 2023 6:14 pm

“Lahat ba nakapanood na ng vlog ni Liza?” 

It was the hottest topic for days: Liza Soberano’s vlog statements on her being unable to do the things she’s always wanted to do in her career and being free at last to pursue her own dreams.  

“I’ve been in six feature films, over 500 episodes of teleserye, and have only really dabbled into three main genres: romance, comedy, and drama. Since I was 16, I had only really worked side by side with one main co-star, with the same production company, rotating around the same three directors. During all those years, I was never really asked for my input, my thoughts, my ideas,” Soberano declares in the video. 

Her freedom to express herself, no matter how well her intention was, was met with mixed reactions from entertainment industry players and kibitzers alike. 

Ogie Diaz, Liza’s former manager, has already reacted to the actress’ video saying, “Anak, lagi kang binibigyan ng chance to say your piece, your opinion, your suggestion. Pinapakinggan ka rin naman ‘pag may complaints ka pero minsan 'di ba we have to meet halfway?” He also reminded her former ward of the many things she was able to achieve as “Liza Soberano.”  

"Nabigyan mo ng bahay at magandang buhay ang Daddy mo, nakakapagpadala ka rin ng tulong sa Mommy mo sa States. Naibili mo ng bahay sa Amerika ang lola at lolo mo na kumupkop sa inyo ng kapatid mong si Justin nung mga bata pa kayo sa Amerika, lahat 'yan dahil sa'yo, dahil sa pagiging Liza Soberano mo, anak," he said.  

Industry veteran and a talent manager himself, Boy Abunda couldn’t help but express disappointment over the actress’ statements. 

“I’m not disgusted, but I am extremely disappointed with the vlog,” Abunda says. He also advised the actress to value her past. 

“Huwag mong isantabi. Do not disregard your past. Do not disregard the 13 years na minahal ka ng fans mo. And do not disregard the hard work that your managers put into who you are today,” the TV host-manager remarks, saying Liza is free to move forward with her career but with a grateful heart.  

For talent manager and multi-media producer Noel Ferrer, Soberano always deserves support, regardless of who she identifies herself now. 

"Whether Li[z]a or Hope, I have and will always be supportive of her!!!" Ferrer said, noting that unlike many people, the actress is doing what she wants to do in her "own terms" and in her "own way."

"In the end, it'll always be the 'authentic voice' that will matter... And Hope/@lizasoberano has three things that we are so wanting these days: truth, courage, and responsibility!!! Here's looking at you Hope/Liza," Ferrer added.

Aware of the backlash and the polarizing views about her vlog and being called “walang utang na loob,” Soberano clarifies her side. 

“I guess my video was really up for other people’s interpretation but I know my piece and I am very grateful," she begins. “…the number one thing I would always say to everyone is thank you, truly grateful—and that has not changed until now. I’m not upset about anything. I’m just stating facts, things I’ve experienced, things I’ve been through, and how I am moving forward for that,” Soberano adds, also expressing her gratitude to her former manager, Ogie Diaz.  

And while it seems peace is about to transpire with these statements being made, the narratives and opinions about the mentality of having "utang na loob" or being indebted versus pursuing transformative growth is still an ongoing debate for many.

POVs of handlers, managers, and talents 

Let’s face it: in a non-showbiz setting and in the real world, resigning, changing management, and shifting careers can be considered a regular occurrence. It’s a discussion worthy of in-depth “kapehan” and conversations among friends, mentors, and one’s so-called support system. But it’s another story if a celebrity is involved in this life-changing decision. 

Set in the local entertainment industry where loyalty is a prized virtue, the seemingly innocent decision to grow and change management massively affects and impacts fandoms, relationships, and business. And of course, the “Marites” and netizens can’t wait for the piping hot tea to be served and dish out their own takes and opinions about Soberano or any other celebrity involved in this kind of situation. There’s just a tad too many factors involved.  

To have a better perspective and approximation of industry scenarios, we sought the thoughts of talents and managers and handlers who are more familiar with network/manager-talent dynamics. 

So how should talents and managers balance the sense of being indebted and gratitude or “utang na loob” and their desire to switch or change for growth and vice versa?  

Host and actress Issa Litton, who’s in a unique position to share her views both as a talent and as a manager (she manages hosts under her company 1Lit Corp), gave an insightful response to the question posed.  

“Gratitude really goes a long way. It changes perspectives and attitudes, and your energy—what you give out and what you attract,” Litton starts.  

“However, being authentic and true to yourself is something not everyone has the courage to do. And that comes with growth and experience, trial and error. Nobody has everything figured out—especially when it comes to career choices. Bottom line: respect and transparency are key. Words matter. How you communicate or say your side matters. Relationships matter. Don’t burn bridges,” Litton meaningfully concludes.  

Nobody has everything figured out—especially when it comes to career choices. Bottom line: respect and transparency are key. Words matter. How you communicate or say your side matters.

Speaking as a talent, host, model and beauty queen (Mutya ng Pilipinas 2010) Carla Lizardo-Sulit believes in committing to your decision. 

“There's nothing wrong with realizing that your relationship with your manager is no longer aligned with your goals. I don't think utang na loob should ever hold someone back. I think respectful communication is key—kung magpaalam at magpasalamat ng maayos, I don't think there should be an issue,” Lizardo-Sulit says. 

Eleanor Pisk, owner of modeling agency StarHorizon and has been managing talents for 15 years, provided a lengthy and in-depth explanation of the dynamics and the sacrifices of managers as well. 

“The relationship between the talent and the talent agency is a special one. Especially for the talent agency that has discovered, skilled up, and promoted the talent. They take a leap of faith long before they might be rewarded through placement of the talent. Depending on the skill level of a talent, it can be years before they see their return on investment. Talents need to recognize this and appreciate that someone is investing in them as this comes at a cost to their [manager’s] business,” Pisk says. 

She also notes today’s culture and this generation’s expectations.

"In today’s instant culture and mostly immediate gratification, one expects to be placed quickly. And if this doesn’t happen, they tend to move from agency to agency which is neither good for the talent nor the agency," Pisk continues.

"Acquiring and mastering these skill sets take time and patience need to be applied. Communication is key in all circumstances. If matters are raised at the appropriate time, issues can be resolved without distress on either side. Some talents think only of their own without considering the efforts and the time spent [on] them by their manager in developing and preparing them to achieve their dreams and to be in the limelight."

Depending on the skill level of a talent, it can be years before they see their return on investment. Talents need to recognize this and appreciate that someone is investing in them as this comes at a cost to their [manager’s] business.

While Pisk understands a talent’s need to succeed and desire for growth, she says timing and proper communication should be considered even at instances when "they see oppotunity" in another manager.

She elaborates, "There are instances that talents even break the exclusive contract just to explore the opportunities they smell outside, which they always think is for them, [but] in fact is not. Talents should learn how to respect the binding contract and should always treasure and be grateful of where they are now instead of talking against the manager who put too much effort into building them. Talents should wait for the right timing."

"If the manager pushes the talents in different projects and still does not get a chance, it means that it is not yet their time. As long as the manager does the job of presenting the talents in various opportunities, the talent should be respective enough not to rush," Pisk continues. "Talents think they are being left behind when they see that others are getting projects and they don’t. There must be a reason why."

Larry Deang, talent manager and handler of sports personalities, has the same take as that of Pisk in terms of proper communication and in recognizing a manager’s hard work. 

“Feeling ko nasa character development ng tao. Parang wala namang ganoong ka-inggrata na talent na hindi ka thankful kung anumang meron ka ngayon. Kasi kung ano ang na-experience na maganda at masagana ang buhay mo, I think naman alam mong dahil iyon sa relationship mo with your manager or with your management kung ano ka ngayon,” Deang says.

He believes that both talent and manager should communicate well with each other and discuss expectations or how to move forward.  

“To begin with, meron naman iyong kontrata—like there’s an end term kung hanggang dito na lang ang relationship [as talent and manager]. Tapos kapag magrerenew, mag-uusap kayo and maglalatag ng ‘what are your expectations?’ kung meron pa ba. There will always be a time to assess if the talent-manager relationship should still push through or hindi na para maayos,” he says.

Rounding up the conversations with these industry practitioners, it’s safe to conclude that “pagtanaw ng utang na loob” must not be a hindrance to a better future and to the growth of a talent. However, one’s pursuit of greener pastures shouldn’t be at the expense of relationship, including ones with your previous management nor should it debase the sacrifices, hard work, and investments made.

The recent Liza Soberano incident is also a good reminder of how it is universally acknowledged that change is inevitable for evolving human beings. One shouldn’t be at fault for it if done with the right intent and message.