What was once a productive relationship has turned increasingly sour for the current members of Rivermaya and former manager Lizza Nakpil because of a legal dispute over ownership of the band's name.
PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) recently received a copy of the letter being disseminated by Rivermaya drummer Mark Escueta to friends and loyal followers, disputing Nakpil's claim that she completely owns the Rivermaya brand, as declared by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) last August 18.
According to Mark, the IPO's decision at the moment remains uncertain. Nakpil's "application for registration of the trademark 'Rivermaya' is still pending," he said.
Mark Escueta's letter, which has been circulating in cyberspace, includes a copy of the certification issued by the IPO:
"This is to certify that the trademark 'Rivermaya' with Application Serial No. 4-2008-008018 is the subject matter of a pending Intellectual Property Right (IPR) case docketed as IPC No. 14-2008-00254 an Opposition to Trademark Application Serial No. 4-2008-008018 for the trademark 'Rivermaya' entitled Mark Edward P. Escueta, Michael Maximino C. Elgar, John Paul R. Sergio and Jayson S. Fernandez, Opposers, versus Lizza G. Nakpil, Respondent-Applicant before the Intellectual Property Office. Decision No. 2009-103 dated August 18, 2009 was issued and received by Opposers on September 22, 2009 and by Respondent-Applicant on September 24, 2009 respectively, and that no Entry of Judgment/Execution of decision has been issued yet."
MANUFACTURED OUTFIT. In 1993, Lizza Nakpil and film director Chito Roño called for an audition to form a rock n' roll band that would eventually be called Rivermaya.
The band was founded to capitalize on the burgeoning local alternative rock scene that was starting to take over mainstream radio at the start of the decade. Rivermaya's first official lineup as introduced to the public was composed of Perf de Castro, Nathan Azarcon, Bamboo Mañalac, Mark Escueta, and Rico Blanco.
Rated second to the phenomenal Eraserheads in terms of commercial appeal, Rivermaya churned out dozens of hits which are now hailed as modern OPM gems. Some of the songs popularized by the band include "Ulan," "Awit ng Kabataan," "214," "Kisapmata," "Himala," "Hinahanap-Hanap Kita," "Nerbyoso," "Umaaraw, Umuulan," "Wag Na Init Ulo Baby," "You'll Be Safe Here," and "Balisong."
Ever since its birth, the band went through personnel changes, which have greatly altered the group's overall sound and image. A headcount of former Rivermaya members totaled nine overall: Jessie Gonzales, Rome Velayo, Kenneth Ilagan, Jyel Tagbo, Perf de Castro, Kakoi Legaspi, Nathan Azarcon, Bamboo Mañalac, and Rico Blanco.
Among the ex-members, the departure of vocalist Bamboo and chief songwriter Rico is seen by fans as the most significant. The two artists had a huge role in shaping the band's identity during two separate periods.
Mañalac left the band in 1997 following the band's U.S. tour before making a comeback in 2003 with his new band, Bamboo. He was joined by another former Rivermaya member, bassist Nathan. Rico, on the other hand, resigned from the band in 2007 to "pursue other interests," but eventually returned to the music scene this time as a successful solo artist.
Rico's shocking departure forced management to call for a nationwide audition to fill in the huge void left by its main songwriter. Eighteen-year-old Jayson Fernandez bested other aspirants to bag the coveted yet daunting role of fronting a big act.
Rivermaya's third evolution made up of Jayson, Mike Elgar, Japs Sergio, and remaining original member Mark Escueta courageously carried the band's legacy by releasing an EP titled Bagong Liwanag, followed by a full-length record, Buhay.
SEVERING TIES WITH NAKPIL. Loyal followers and insiders were shocked when news came out in December 2008 that Rivermaya parted ways with longtime manager Lizza Nakpil.
The fallout was allegedly brought about by a dispute concerning money matters over royalties and other dealings.
But while the four-piece unit was determined to soldier on without Nakpil's supervision, the group was confronted with a problem concerning the use of their own name.
Nakpil, as it turned out, has asserted her claim over the band's name on the strength of her application to the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, declaring the Rivermaya trademark to be in her possession.
PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) obtained a copy of a statement (purportedly from the IPO) affirming Nakpil's ownership of the Rivermaya name:
"Musicians Mark P. Escueta, John Paul Sergio, Michael Elgar, Jayson Fernandez, and their coordinator Flordeliza Hardin are not connected with the owner of, and therefore are not entitled to the use of the tradename 'Rivermaya' of the popular rock band, which was created, developed and financed by Lizza Guerrero Nakpil in 1993. Producers and agents are likewise barred.
"The Intellectual Property Office (I.P.O.) of the Philippines, in Decision No. 2009 - 1003 promulgated on August 18, 2009, ordered the recognition of Ms. Nakpil's ownership of the trademark Rivermaya, with Serial No. 4-2008-00818. The order was signed by IPO Director Estrellita Beltran-Abelardo.
"Ms. Nakpil's registration of the trademark was made on July 7, 2008, and under the principle of 'first to file' has been operational since that date."
"SHE WANTS TO KILL OUR CAREER." In an e-mail interview with drummer Mark Escueta, he told PEP that their decision to cut off relations with their longtime manager took place in April 2008.
"We discovered certain acts of misappropriation of funds which led to our immediate loss of trust and confidence in her. We fired her immediately but then, without our knowledge and consent, she filed an application at the IPO attempting to register the mark Rivermaya under her own. That is why we had to file an Opposition to her application and that process is ongoing to this day.
"Along with the IPO Certificate that we've sent PEP, I'd like to reiterate that this application is still pending and there has been no Entry of Judgment/Execution has been issued by the IPO. By virtue of being an 'applicant', there is no way in this universe that Lizza Nakpil can claim ownership of Rivermaya," wrote Escueta, who is rumored to be the current boyfriend of Jolina Magdangal.
Mark Escueta—who filed a separate application with the IPO to counter Nakpil's claim of ownership—defiantly challenged Lizza's involvement in christening the band by arguing that the manager "did not think of that name or in any way participate in its selection."
He rationalized that Nakpil's intention to gain control over the brand has more to do with ego, rather than rights and legalities.
"She wants to kill our career just because she's not part of it anymore," Escueta lamented. "You know what you call people who gain from hurting others, right? I am thankful for the good things she's done in the past. She had her moments when she was at her prime but things went downhill for her after Rico left. We realized she relied on him so so much. And we totally lost our trust and confidence in her after what we had discovered in 2008."
The controversy escalated with Nakpil's announcement of the IPO ruling in her favor, which has dealt the band a severe blow. According to Mark, promoters and producers dare not touch Rivermaya for fear of possible legal action.
"We've lost so many gigs because she falsely claimed to own Rivermaya and we hope this makes it clear to everyone that she has been lying by calling herself the 'registered owner' and her harassment of producers with demand letters for trademark infringement is without legal basis.
"She even succeeded in misleading Facebook into shutting down three of our fan pages, disconnecting us from thousands of our friends. Our official website and our Youtube site was also shut down. Fans should not worry though, we have taken steps to ensure that we have uninterrupted communication with them, we update them every step of the way, and we will continue to defend our name and our music until this case is resolved."
More than just fighting to keep the Rivermaya name, Mark expressed hope that the incident would somehow set a precedent for bands and other musicians to guard their rights by formally registering their name, ideas and works to save them from possible trouble in the future.
"IPO registration is not a yet a common practice for bands in the Philippines and we think this is matter that all bands should look into and learn from. Basically, we are defending our name because someone is trying to steal it," Mark reiterated.
Subsequently, PEP will upload Lisa Nakpil's side of the story.