ABS-CBN's drama anthology, Ipaglaban Mo, has distinguished itself as the longest-running legal drama anthology on Philippine television.
Ipaglaban Mo presents a fictional dramatization of actual cases brought before, and settled in, the Supreme Court.
The show aims to educate viewers about their legal rights and options.
Hosted by Attorney Jose Sison, the legal drama first aired in 1988 on IBC-13, under the title Kapag Nasa Katuwiran... Ipaglaban Mo!
In 1992, Kapag Nasa Katuwiran... Ipaglaban Mo! transferred to ABS-CBN as a blocktimer. The following year, the show became a station-produced program until it aired its last episode in 1999.
Kapag Nasa Katuwiran... Ipaglaban Mo! returned to television in October 2013, airing as a blocktimer on GMA-7's news channel, GMA News TV.
For its comeback, Attorney Jose was joined by his son Jopet. This time the show ran for just over three months.
On June 7, 2014, the program, still hosted by Attorney Jose and Jopet, returned to ABS-CBN. The legal drama, now a station-produced program, assumed the title Ipaglaban Mo.
Today, Ipaglaban Mo is alive and well—and continues to inform the public about court cases involving people from all walks of life, whose choices, or lack of these, have brought them under the scrutiny of the legal system.
But despite its many years on television, Ipaglaban Mo's process for coming up with an episode remains under wraps.
How do its production and creative teams select the cases they tackle?
How do writers introduce fictional dramatizations into a court case—and how far can they go?
How does Ipaglaban Mo, with its stories about real-life cases that are always adult and many times violent, deal with the Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)?
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal), seeking answers to these questions, goes to the best source: Ipaglaban Mo's business unit head Rizza Gonzales Ebriega.
Ebriega, before becoming Ipaglaban Mo's business unit head, had served as the show's production manager, from its reincarnation in 2014 until 2018, under the unit of Ruel Santos Bayani, aka RSB.
In this PEP.ph special report, Ebriega—known as RGE within the Kapamilya network—gives readers a ringside view of how Ipaglaban Mo is produced—from case selection to scriptwriting to pre-production to casting to airing.
Ebriega also narrates the five-year journey of Ipaglaban Mo and the challenges the program faced on its way to becoming one of ABS-CBN's flagship drama anthologies.
This special report also features photographs from past Ipaglaban Mo episodes.
HOW DOES IPAGLABAN MO SELECT CASES?
Ipaglaban Mo premiered on ABS-CBN's Saturday afternoon block on June 7, 2014, coming right after the network's flagship noontime show, It's Showtime.
The return of Ipaglaban Mo to ABS-CBN was a big challenge for the team, especially when it came to selecting the cases to be dramatized.
Ebriega admits, "When we started, the first year of Ipaglaban Mo, noong nagbalik siya, it was very difficult kasi sa dami nang nagawa nila noong first leg nila sa ABS-CBN. Parang feeling mo, nagawa na lahat, only to realize na, yes, iyong cases nari-repeat.
"It's always mga murder cases, rape cases, annulment, custody ng mga anak, lupain..."
On their second year, the team came up with a system that made the work process easier.
"Nagkaroon na kami ng system," Ebriega says. "We have a group, we have a team composed of mga brainstormers iyan. These are new writers, kasi mayroon kaming creative development group.
"So, lahat iyon, junior brainstormers, sila iyong nagre-research ng cases."
The long process of production begins with coming up with the choice of cases for airing over one month's period, which means coming up with four to five Saturday episodes.
"As much as possible, in a month," enumerates Ebriega, "if there's a murder case na interesting, meron iyan. May rape case, may something to do with family, love story that will lead to annulment, or nag-away, paano maghihiwalay, or tungkol sa lupain.
"But, of course, there are only four Saturdays, minsan lima. So, iniikot lang namin. We just make sure na every month, iba-iba iyong mape-present."
From 2014 to 2019, the process followed was that writers presented the cases to Ebriega for pre-approval, then they were screened by Bayani. Since 2019, with Ebriega's promotion to business unit head, the ultimate approval has fallen solely with her.
Once all case stories are approved, extensive research about every case follows quickly.
The research is done by the brainstormers and writers involved with the episode, and they get their data from the G.R., or the General Register, of the Supreme Court.
The G.R. contains the I.D. number of cases reaching the Supreme Court. It also contains the details of the cases and their final resolution.
Ebriega explains,"Parang it's a legal document that we get from the Supreme Court. It is public domain—you can research it online. And then, doon na pumapasok si Attorney Sison."
ATTY. JOSE SISON AND SON JOPET SISON
The consultation with legal minds begins.
"After we've selected the approved cases," Ebriega goes on, "we call on Attorney, and iyong kanyang anak na si Jopet. We have a session with them, doon sa mag-ama, and we present the cases."
Specifically, Ebriega and her team consult on their proposed dramatization of the cases.
"Kapag na-present na namin iyong cases, usually we're ready with, 'Paano iyon, Attorney, kung gusto namin iyong drama nito, e, medyo gagawin naming ganito?'"
After the cases are discussed with Atty. Sison, he writes an article in The Philippine Star discussing the cases to be aired.
As Ebriega tells it, "Doon lang nakatuon iyong writer in making the script. Nauuna iyong article, that's why we make sure that it's presented to him, iyong apat or five na cases. Gagawin niya na iyon, iisa-isahin niya iyon.
"So once he says that it's published or 'Na-article ko na iyan, gawin niyo na,' gagawin na iyon ng writers."
MMK aND SOCO
As the business unit head makes clear, Ipaglaban Mo does not bring in the real people involved in a case.
"We just get the details of the cases, pero we make sure hindi namin gagamitin iyong pangalan. Para, at least, alam nating dina-dramatize iyong case, not the buhay of mga taong involved."
In fact, Ipaglaban Mo airs a disclaimer at the start of the program saying the story is not based on real life.
This is also to protect the identity of ABS-CBN's primetime drama anthology, Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK), which features true-to-life stories.
Ebriega currently serves as the business unit head of MMK as well, with Roda Catolico-dela Cerna.
"That is to manage naman MMK, because ang MMK, ang strength naman nila ay true-to-life," Ebriega explains.
"Di ba, parehong Sabado? Tanghali kami, 'tapos sila sa gabi, so we make sure na di iyon magkakabanggaan. Kung magkakabanggaan, ginagawan ng paraan."
Ebriega's team also makes sure to traffic the cases to avoid featuring similar cases in the two shows within the same month.
Add to this, the team pays attention to the program airing next to Ipaglaban Mo, which is the News and Current Affairs Program SOCO: Scene of the Crime Operatives.
SOCO, hosted by Gus Abelgas, discusses how murder cases are investigated and solved.
WRITING AN IPAGLABAN MO SCRIPT
After Attorney Sison writes his article, the assigned episode writer moves on to the making of the script.
This is where writers add the fiction and the drama that give flesh to the case, which details are not provided in the G.R.
Ebriega explains, "Once nasa writer na, it starts with the treatment, sequence treatment of the case, including the drama. Iyong drama kasi, hindi provided iyon ng G.R., kami iyong gumagawa.
"So, ibig sabihin, during our meeting, sasabihin ko na sa kanila, 'O, maganda iyong case pero I think iyong point-of-view niyan, iyong nanay. So, gawan ninyo ng drama iyong nanay.'
"So, half of the story, hindi naman talaga siya nakita doon sa G.R.
"But since ang concept naman ng Ipaglaban is really just the case, it's not a problem na maglalagay [ng drama], pero in consultation iyon with Attorney. Hindi kami puwedeng mag-imbento ng istorya na hindi niya i-a-approve."
The meetings with Attorney Sison are also when they consult about adjustments that have to be made to the story, either because of the drama they want to pursue or because of the limitations in production and casting.
Ebriega cites an example: "Kunyari sasabihin namin, most especially now that DOLE is very strict lalo na kapag ang casting ay below this age, 'Attorney, pwede bang medyo tandaan nang konti iyong age?'
"[Sasabihin niya], 'Pwede naman.'
"Para rin hindi eksaktong-eksakto, at hindi tatamaan iyong taong involved in the case."
So far, their system has worked.
"Fortunately, we did not receive any complaints, or any tawag na, 'Huy, kaso namin iyan, ha.' They cannot claim it, of course, they know it's a G.R.
"Pero hindi naman ina-announce sa show na this is from G.R. blah blah blah. Pero iyong case, nilalagay iyon ni Attorney kung anong law, nilalagay niya iyong mga detalye. Kasi importante iyon," says Ebriega.
Once the writer finishes writing the sequence treatment for the episode, the Ipaglaban Mo staff meets for pre-production.
"After the treatment, it goes to all of us—the director and me and the executive producer and the entire staff," Ebriega says.
"We call it pre-production, the preliminary meeting.
"First time nilang mapag-uusapan ang treatment. We do feedback, all kinds of feedback from everyone. Welcome iyon doon.
"Sometimes, it goes on another treatment, kung manipis ang istorya and the headwriter will recommend na i-repeat. Or kaya kapag sinabing kaya na iyan, diretso nang script, pwede rin naman. Gagawin na ng writer iyong script.
"Then, it goes back to the production again, reading-reading na naman kami. Lahat talaga ito, reading and feedback."
Although the creative team has the freedom to come up with the narrative for a case, there remain restrictions, especially for court scenes.
One such lesson is about court scenes, something they picked up from Atty. Sison.
"Ipinapaalam namin sa kanya na, halimbawa, kunyari in a court, mas maganda iyong nagsisigawan, di ba?
"Lagi niya kaming nire-remind, 'Hindi puwedeng parang laging nagsisigawan. Sa court, hindi iyan ina-allow, kaya nga may 'Order In The Court.'
"'Tapos sinasabi namin, 'Attorney, dramatization.'
"So, we make it a point na ipinapaalam namin sa kanya lalo na kapag inside the court kasi may mga S.O.P. [standard operating procedure] talaga, e.
"Meron siyang sinasabing hindi nangyayari iyan sa korte. We don't want din naman na masabi na, 'Hmm... hindi naman totoo iyan, e.'"
SPIELS AND VOICE-OVERS
When it comes to Atty. Sison and Jopet's spiels and voice-overs, which are traditionally part of Ipaglaban Mo, it is usually Atty. Sison who writes the script.
"Actually, iyong spiels, siya yung sumusulat," Ebriega clarifies. "Sa kanya nanggagaling iyon. Tinitignan na lang namin.
"Sometimes, iyong spiel, nangyayari na lang iyan, na-shoot na lahat, na-tape na lahat.
"And then, in a month, kung apat iyan, minsan nagte-tape siya ng dalawa o tatlong spiels in one taping, e.
"So, dala dala na niya iyong spiels na iyon, but, of course, we see that pa rin. Pero seldom that we touch it kasi ano pa bang gagalawin namin? Iyon talaga iyong legal part, so we cannot change it.
"That's why we protect that part. Iyong mga spiels niya kasi, sometimes it's long, pero kasi talagang iyon iyong mga judgment, iyon iyong flow na kailan, paano napatawad, o kaya paano nasintensyahan."
CASTING FOR AN IPAGLABAN MO EPISODE
Once the script is approved, the production and creative teams now decide which actors to cast.
Ebriega discusses the process of casting stars. "Ang perfect na flow namin sa casting, ganito: So, imagine mo, maaga iyong cases approved, di ba? So, maaga kong nakukuha ang treatment, maagang napi-feedback with everybody.
"Kasi I used to be a talent coordinator in another network, pero here in ABS, nakapag-TC din ako, sa 'Sang Linggo Napo Sila. So, I know how hard it is to get in touch with artists, alam ko iyon."
No star, big or small, likes to feel like he or she was simply picked from a gallery.
"Iyong respeto na gusto ng artista, hindi sila parang pinagpipilian na mararami," says the veteran Ebriega.
The production group of Ipaglaban Mo comes up with a list of stars they want to cast for specific roles.
Here, Ebriega has her standards and limitations for the team.
Explaining, Ebriega says, "So, when I receive a line-up, ayaw na ayaw ko iyong tipong 'Sana, binigyan niyo na lang ako ng folder ng artist's list,' kasi nandoon lahat.
"Kunyari, ang bidang babae, nandoon lahat iyong pangalan ng puwedeng bidang babae. 'Sandali, sandali, ha. Hindi ganito.' So nakapag-train rin ako ng mga tao on how to properly cast."
She does not want to be given more than five names for one role.
"In Ipaglaban, it's very crucial na dapat alam mo iyong role and then match mo. So, ang rule ko sa kanila, never na ang isang role na iyan ay lalagpas ng limang options.
"So, ibig sabihin, kapag gumawa kayo ng listahan, hindi ko makikita iyong paulit-ulit na pangalan kasi I don't think lahat ng role, e, bagay doon sa taong ito.
"So, they write the names, and then ako na mismo. Kasi alam ko na iyong character. We have a character description in the treatment. We make sure nakalagay doon kung ilang taon, anong pagkatao nito as a character, bakit siya ganun, ganyan ganyan.
"From the choices, I pick na these are the priorities for the role. I cast the major ones, pero usually, iyong mga support, I let them do it."
CASTING IS ALSO A MATTER OF BUDGET
Because Ipaglaban Mo is a weekly afternoon show, there is a limit to which artists it can cast: the budget is limited.
Afternoon shows normally get a smaller budget than shows aired on primetime, the reality being that ads populate largely the primetime hours.
Respecting that limitation, Ebriega and her team have hit on a solution: to develop names whose talents have yet to be showcased in major projects.
"Wala namang problema iyon sa amin, we don't always get the big stars, pero we make sure na lang na magde-develop kami or magta-try kami ng bago na ito. Kapag pumutok ito, e, di sige, may artista na tayong dagdag."
"May ganun kami," Ebriega says, "na even if we don't get the big names, we make sure na, 'Halika, tayaan natin ito. Feeling ko bagay sa kanya iyan.'
"Marami kaming ganung trials na, 'Oh, tignan mo, ang galing umarte.'
"Minsan kasi, may mga ibang artistang hindi nabibigyan ng opportunity na magbida. So, somehow, in Ipaglaban, we win iyong part na iyon, na we give them the opportunity.
"Tapos kahit window man lang, kahit isang episode lang iyong makita nila [producers/directors], 'Uy, marunong palang umarte, i-try natin sa soap.'"
NAMES THAT HAVE BECOME STARS
Ebriega is happy to say that most actors they have cast in lead roles can now top-bill their own teleseryes.
One is Pinoy Big Brother 737 housemate Barbie Imperial, who usually starred in murder and rape episodes.
Male actors RK Bagatsing and Marco Gumabao have also top-billed several Ipaglaban Mo episodes.
"We cannot say na sa amin nag-start," Ebriega says prudently. "I'm sure nagkaroon iyan ng mga iba pang roles sa mga soap. Kaya lang kasi minsan, kapag nabibigyan mo ng chance sa Ipaglaban, kasi bibidahin na iyong role, mapapansin.
"And then, habang inuulit mo nang inuulit, nasasanay sila.
"And then, siguro ang isang masasabi ko, the directors kasi really, kumbaga, give time para mapiga iyong artista sa Ipaglaban. Hindi nila hinahayaang 'Okay na iyan.'"
One of Ipaglaban Mo's recent discoveries is Cindy Miranda, the Bb. Pilipinas Tourism 2013 titleholder who tried her hand at acting and joined the stable of VIVA Artists Agency. Cindy was recently seen in the 2019 movie Adan.
Cindy was part of "Kalaguyo," an episode which aired July 2019 and is part of Ipaglaban Mo's fifth anniversary special.
The cast featured Jhong Hilario as a husband who murdered his wife, played by Nikki Valdez, to pursue a relationship with her younger sister, played by Cindy.
Ebriega says that the episode, which was to be taped on location in Batangas, was nearly packed up twice because they couldn't find an actress to play Nikki's younger sister...
"Pero katulad noon, of course, may Jhong at may Nikki iyon, pero iyong mga support, talagang hindi kami masyadong maka-line up kasi ang hirap nga."
The role required the actress not only to kiss Jhong but to perform daring scenes with him.
Ebriega relates, "May dalawang attempt na ma-pack up siya, because wala kaming ma-cast for the role noong babae, iyong kapatid ni Nikki na nang-agaw. E, tapos, hindi na puwedeng ma-delay, so VIVA helped us with her.
"We make sure lang na tumayo nang maayos iyong role ni Nikki and Jhong, we have a show, kasi sila naman iyong poste.
"Walang gustong makipaghalikan, 'tapos iyon iyong pinaka-difficult kapag kailangan may kissing scene. Kasi hindi lahat will agree to that, most especially iyong mga teens natin ngayon."
"E, lumabas na siya, game na game si Cindy. So, parang ang dating, kuhang-kuha niya iyong eksaktong characterization ni girl na nasa story, na parang walang masyadong pakialam, so halikan sila diyan.
"Of course, the kissing scene, walang arte, hindi siya dinaya. Kiss kung kiss talaga si Jhong, na-pull off."
"Kalaguyo" turned out to be one of the highest-rating episodes of Ipaglaban Mo for 2019, hitting 20.5 percent and becoming the fourth most-watched show on July 13, 2019.
Ebriega exults, "Parang, kaming lahat, not expecting na it's going to be 20!"
BIGGEST STARS RESERVED FOR ANNIVERSARIES
There were also times when Ipaglaban Mo managed to cast big-marquee names, particularly in its anniversary episodes.
As it was then, so it is today. When it comes to inviting the big stars, Ebriega does the coordinating herself.
"Tinatawagan ko either manager, or I call Star Magic, kasi ako mismo, even during noong production manager role 'ko, kapag talagang sensitive iyong artista, hindi ko muna pinapatawagan sa TC or sa EP, magpi-pre call muna ako.
"Ganyan, kung sinuman iyong taga-Star Magic, 'We plan to get Angelica Panganiban...' Usually, we reserve the major stars on special celebrations, like anniversary."
Star Magic is the talent-management arm of ABS-CBN, with a roster of more than 300 stars. Arguably, many of the biggest names in showbiz are under Star Magic, which is run by Johnny "Mr. M" Manahan, its chairman emeritus, and Mariole Alberto.
Some celebrities who have starred in Ipaglaban Mo are Kim Chiu, Arci Munoz, Erich Gonzales, Arjo Atayde, Jane Oineza, Ellen Adarna, Tony Labrusca, Maris Racal, Jerome Ponce, Joseph Marco, Ritz Azul, and JM de Guzman.
IPAGLABAN MO TAPING, POST-PRODUCTION
Once the script and casting are approved, the episode is ready for taping.
Ebriega discusses the process of taping Ipaglaban Mo, which is a weekly, episodic show.
"We tape twice a week. Hindi kami lumalagpas. To be honest, kami iyong No. 1 in compliance doon sa work hours. Now it's 18 hours, pero usually, 12 midnight, cut-off na namin per taping day.
"It used to be one day when we started, inaabot talaga kami ng madaling araw. We have to finish everything.
"Pero noong in-improve iyong working hours, we became two taping days, wala na kaming rason para hindi matapos earlier.
"May mga cases or may mga script na easy to tape or kapag hindi ganun ka-difficult iyong location. Hindi malayo, hindi ka mag-e-entail ng delays, etc. Natatapos talaga siya."
After the two-day taping, the material goes to post-production for editing.
The associate producer oversees the editing of an episode.
Ebriega narrates: "We have a separate team for the post. We have an associate producer there na talagang, siya, doon lang naka-dedicate. So, ibig sabihin talagang kontrolado pati airing.
"It has to be really advance ng two weeks kasi kailangang i-edit, kailangang ma-preview for comments, kailangang ma-subtitle iyon, 'tapos for preview ulit.
"So meaning, lagi kaming advance for one week. Like halimbawa, iyong episode na ie-air this Saturday, na-preview na iyon and ready to air na iyon. 'Tapos tuluy-tuloy iyan, non-stop iyan."
THINGS ARE GOING WELL ENOUGH
Today, the team is as efficient as any factory production line, says the business unit head.
"Para talagang factory na diri-diretso iyong line of work, walang natitigil."
This is the reason why, to date, Ipaglaban Mo has not dealt with any "for airing" episodes, or episodes taped within the very day of airing.
"Ang maganda rin sa Ipaglaban, dahil lagi kaming advance, we really can plan iyong latag ng episodes.
"Sometimes, inaabangan na namin kapag may holidays. It's a treat for the staff. Everybody in the show, inaabangan namin iyon. So, either na-advance na iyon or hindi tatamaan iyon, so, everybody goes on a holiday. So, hindi nila kailangang nagpo-for airing. Never nangyari sa Ipaglaban iyong for airing."
Trying to recall their beginnings, Ebriega says, "Iyong first year siguro iyong may paisa-isa. Usually, ang nagiging problem namin kapag umaabot doon ay iyong artista.
"If we don't like the casting, hindi namin pinipilit.
"Pinaka-delay naman is to tape sa Thursday for Saturday airing. Wala naman kaming same-day Saturday taping. So it's always Tuesday-Thursday, Thursday-Saturday, or Saturday-Tuesday, laging dalawang beses.
"Tapos when I say for airing, it's really naman iyong Thursday itinape pero Saturday airing. Never nag-same day.
"At saka nangyari iyan siguro, if I can remember, mga dalawa o tatlo yata. Pero hindi dahil wala kaming ma-tape but because, iyon na nga, hindi namin gusto iyong artista or may conflict kami sa MMK before.
"Nahirapan pa kaming i-manage na, 'Ay, guest pala si ganito.' Kami iyong most likely na nag-a-adjust sa kanila kahit kami iyong unang mag-e-air sa timeslot.
"Kasi, siyempre, we understand na sila, three days iyong taping nila. So, in a week, medyo delikado talaga kapag hindi sila advance, hindi sila aabot ng Sabado."
The advance taping set-up has also allowed the producers of Ipaglaban Mo to stay within their budget.
Ebriega comments, "Very ideal iyon, at saka very efficient pati sa costing, in terms of budgeting. Siguro walang year yata na nag-close iyong taon na nag-overrun or we exceeded our budget.
"We're always within our budget or savings, fortunately," Ebriega says, sounding pleased. She adds, "Tapos may pa-isa isa pang out of the country iyan, ha."
Such as in 2016, when Ipaglaban Mo explored the possibility of taping outside the Philippines, starting with an episode shot in Hong Kong, top-billed by Yen Santos.
Ebriega says, "Inumpisahan namin iyan two years ago. Iyong second year na, 'I-try nga natin na may isang kasong out of the country iyong source.'
"In fairness naman, parang napangatawanan namin since Hong Kong. Nag-Singapore, Korea, then Taiwan.
"Si Yen, Hong Kong, with Beauty Gonzalez. And then Singapore, Marvin Agustin and Ria Atayde. Korea is Kim Chiu and RK Bagatsing. 'Tapos itong Taiwan, si Arci Munoz and Vin Abrenica."
Out-of-country shoots actually work for them, the business unit head says.
"Actually, gusto nila, kasi sa totoo lang, mas efficient siya sa costing. Kasi nga we're very small, iyong production team na nagpupunta sa ibang bansa.
"Pareho rin naman iyong outcome, kaunti rin iyong technical na nadadala, e. Nakakapag-shoot naman pala, pwede naman pala iyon."
MTRCB SELF-REGULATION FOR IPAGLABAN MO
Just like any other television program, Ipaglaban Mo went through birth pains.
Ebriega says that one of their main challenges at the time was to give the show a new flavor and reach a younger market.
She recalls, "Actually, iyong first year talaga, sobrang hirap. Ang challenge namin noon, huwag magmukhang old iyong show, na parang noong dati."
Being a newbie program, the show also had a hard time getting stars to guest on the show.
"Siyempre, kailangan mong ma-build muna iyong confidence ng artista sa show, so it was very difficult.
"Pero, somehow, sa second year namin naramdaman at nakita na na-elevate namin iyong show to a younger market.
"So, if you will notice, marami kaming kaso na pinipili na bata, because we realize iyon ang unang-unang makakapagpabago ng flavor ng show."
Because it features cases that come with sensitive scenes, Ipaglaban Mo says it makes sure to follow the self-regulation rule imposed by the Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).
MTRCB is the government agency responsible for rating TV and film content.
For television, MTRCB has three classifications: G for General Patronage, PG for Parental Guidance, and SPG for Strong Parental Guidance.
The SPG rating considers six factors: Theme (Tema), Language (Lengguwahe), Violence (Karahasan), Sex and Nudity (Sexual), Horror, and Drugs (Droga).
Most of Ipaglaban Mo's episodes fall under the SPG rating.
Ebriega acknowledges, "Of course, SPG naman kami. Mahirap na ring isiping PG lang ito because talaga namang highly sensitive iyong cases.
"Ang rape case, kahit ano namang sabihin mo, it will always be tema—for strict compliance iyon. Murder, of course [karahasan].
"Nagiging PG lang naman kami siguro kapag agawang lupa. Kahit nga minsan, ang adultery, it's theme pa rin di ba?"
"Minsan nga, natatawa kami, horror na lang! E, minsan, may mga horror kami! Iyong mga alam mo iyong mga weird na mangkukulam episodes."
"Nahagip na namin iyong lima [sa SPG], wala na tayong itatago pa!" Ebriega tries to control a laugh.
In February 2017, Ipaglaban Mo was, in fact, summoned by the MTRCB.
This was after Mocha Uson, a blogger and sexy performer appointed to the board of MTRCB, released a video complaining about sensitive, sensual scenes aired by ABS-CBN shows.
One of the shows Mocha mentioned was an episode of Ipaglaban Mo, which featured a rape case starring Shy Carlos, Edgar Allan Guzman, and Paolo Paraiso.
The episode, "Abuso," featured Shy as Rina, an innocent househelper working for Anton (Paolo Paraiso).
In Anton's household, Shy meets Lando (Edgar Allan Guzman), a gardener who develops feelings for Rina.
Things turn upside down when, one day, Anton holds a gun to Lando and forces him to rape Rina. Fearing for his life, Lando follows Anton's instructions and rapes Rina as Anton films them with his camera.
Rina files a case against Lando and Anton.
Recalling the episode, Ebriega says, "Iyon na yata, iyon na lang iyong isang pinakasensitive na nagawa namin. After that kasi, we were called by the MTRCB.
"So, we went through that, but of course, we have to justify. Kasi sa totoo lang, it's all part of the G.R., iyong lahat ng pinagawa sa girl na iyon was all part of the case.
"Iyon iyong sinasabi ko. There was a point before na kung susundin natin lahat iyon, lalo na iyong mga murder, nakakatakot. Nandoon mismo sa G.R. kung paano pinatay, paano na-rape.
"So, that particular episode, somehow, minsan iyong mga directors naman talaga will make their best interpretation. So, nandun na lang iyon."
The incident taught the Ipaglaban Mo producers to take more care about what they showed on television.
Ebriega explains, "After that, we came to a decision na we have a responsibility din naman. There's only a certain point na alam naming pwede ito, at makikita rin naman ng viewers ito.
"So, sa totoo lang, after that, hindi naman kami nag-tame pero siyempre, definitely, hindi naman kami show na para lang aksayahin dahil lang sa mga ganoong eksena. We value the message that we deliver every episode para mas maraming matututo. Rather than sirain pa, somehow, we manage it na lang."
HAVING LAST SAY IN EDITING
As business unit head, Ebriega has the last call on the last cut.
She is able to police the scenes that feel inappropriate or are a bit much for free TV.
"Minsan din naman hindi ko maatim, e. I do the last call in editing. My preview is the last, kumbaga. Executive producer, of course, I give them the opportunity na, 'Tignan ko nga paano kayo mag-call ng decision.'
"Kasi nasa mata mo na iyan, e. It starts with the taping, kapag sinabing huwag niyo nang habaang i-shoot itong murder kasi sigurado namang sa editing we can only use iyong kaya nating ipalabas."
Sounding like a proper producer, she says this is actually good for the budget.
"So, somehow, nakakatipid din kami sa taping. Kasi bakit mo pa idedetalye iyong sandamakmak kung mapuputol lang naman? Kapag pinagdikit-dikit mo, somehow, there are ways naman... you have to be responsible lang talaga in the editing.
"Okay lang na i-shoot mo para you have enough materials, and then get the best shots na alam mong hindi madedehado iyong show mo.
"Siyempre, part iyon ng responsibility namin as producers...Hindi dahil nakasulat, i-shoot mo nang i-shoot nang ganyan, 'tapos bahala ka na. E, baka every week pinapatawag ako!"
Ebriega's position is that she wants peaceful co-existence with the censors.
"We're very respectful with the rules of MTRCB kasi, pwede naman, there's always a way na maging maganda ang relationship niyo.
"We maintain kung ano iyong nasa [court] case, pero naniniwala din ako na there's a way na hindi ka naman umabot doon sa being irresponsible.
"Dapat lagi kang nandoon sa puntong iyon kasi, after all, kami rin naman iyong haharap, di ba?
"So, why do we have to go through that hassle, e, okay naman yung show. Marami namang natutuwa, marami namang natututunan."
RATINGS AND PERFORMANCE OF IPAGLABAN MO
Ebriega is proud to say that Ipaglaban Mo does not need to go the controversial route to earn high ratings.
"Somehow, nalagpasan na namin and, in fact, for many episodes we realize hindi naman kailangang maging controversial pa to get good ratings.
"Kasi to be honest, maganda naman iyong ratings ng Ipaglaban, naging consistent naman kami despite ilang shows na bang tinapatan sa amin.
"The most difficult was the soap, noong tinapatan kami ng soap, noong nag-Monday to Saturday, iyan iyong pinaka-difficult. Pero all the rest, nalagpasan naman namin."
Ebriega is referring to the GMA-7 drama series, Ika-6 Na Utos, starring Sunshine Dizon, Ryza Cenon, and Gabby Concepcion.
The series, which premiered in 2016, extended its normal Monday-Friday run to Saturday in April 2017, with its Saturday edition going head-to-head against Ipaglaban Mo.
After Ika-6 Na Utos ended in March 2018, GMA-7 continued airing an afternoon soap from Monday to Saturday.
Incidentally, Ryza, who transferred to ABS-CBN in 2018, has already appeared in several episodes of Ipaglaban Mo.
Ebriega adds that in the current ratings trend, Ipaglaban Mo serves as good pre-programming to its succeeding program, SOCO: Scene of the Crime Operatives.
"Ngayon, ang magandang tandem talaga, kami ng SOCO, e. Kahit halos parehas kami [ng theme], na-differentiate na namin iyong dalawang shows. So, we're also helping as pre-programming ng SOCO. Nagta-translate.
"Nagtutulungan kami as back-to-back, na halos pareho, pero hindi naman talaga pareho. Kasi we're a legal drama, 'tapos sila ay mas documentary, and they will explain paano binaril. We'll not do that."
SHOW IS STEADY, RELIABLE, STABLE
Overall, Ebriega believes Ipaglaban Mo has not met with problems it could not handle in its first six years on air. She sees the show as a steady, reliable performer in the Kapamilya network.
"Walang masyadong major challenges iyong show kasi ang bait nga, ang tahi-tahimik na parang pinaka-wild na yata iyong paminsan-minsang ipinapatawag sa MTRCB.
"Pero in terms of kunyari, ratings or what, nahi-hit naman namin what is expected of the time slot. Even our commercials, we're doing well naman.
"So far, I think I can safely say na stable naman iyong show, at sa awa ng Diyos, wala naman akong naririnig."
That is, she has not heard anything from the company grapevine to suggest that Ipaglaban Mo is getting the ax.
Ebriega says she honestly did not expect the show to last this long: "Sa totoo lang, hindi."
"Noong first year, hindi namin alam kung aabot [ng taon] pero nakapag-provide kami ng ibang market doon sa timeslot, and we made sure. Kasi there was a year na, 'O, kapag hindi naging maganda ratings niyo, tanggalin na kayo.' May maririnig ka nang ganun pero di naman madalas iyon."
Her team's solution was to work harder.
"So, siyempre, you'll work harder, di ba? Alam mong pipiliin mo na iyong best cases. Naging very choosy na kami siguro. Sa first year, lahat ng challenges, naharap namin.
"And then, after that, noong nagse-second year na, easier na. Hanggang dumating iyong third, sure na kaming pumoste. Kaya sinasabi ko sa iyo ngayon na wala kaming threat na nararamdaman.
"Hindi naman sa napaka-confident ng show, pero wala kaming tinitignan na, 'Kailangan mas maganda tayo sa MMK ha, kailangan hindi natin gayahin iyong SOCO.' I think we already got kung ano iyong dapat sa show.
"Confidently, we're producing it, not really minding the competitor. We focus on the case, we make sure na iyon ang tatayo, maganda iyong pagkaka-shoot."
THE FUTURE OF IPAGLABAN MO
Even with Ipaglaban Mo proving itself as a flagship show of the network, Ebriega and her production team are apparently not sitting pretty.
One of their first innovations was to venture into the digital platform, via their Facebook supplementary program, Ipaglaban Mo: Files.
For this, Ipaglaban Mo: Files has the lead stars of each episode providing more explanation and information about the case.
Aside from Ipaglaban Mo: Files, the production team is also planning other digital campaigns, particularly for ABS-CBN's streaming app, iWant.
Ebriega explains, "Marami kaming attempts pero kasi ang nagiging problema namin, hindi siya parang MMK, e. Meron kaming mga sinuggest sa grupo ng iWant.
"So far, ngayon, iyong sa Facebook, somehow naman it works kasi ine-extract namin kung ano iyong case. Kasi gusto ni Direk Ruel Bayani parati, if it's Ipaglaban, make sure na parati siyang related sa cases or legal."
Ipaglaban Mo is also part of ABS-CBN's Tulong Center, where those in need of legal consultation can go to Atty. Jose Sison for free.
"Tulong Center is also continuous, nag-e-air kami ng replay sa DZMM, 'tapos iyong time ni Atty. sa Tulong Center is also regular, e.
"Dapat lagi kaming nakasandal doon kasi hindi naman talaga kami showbiz show, it's really legal drama, so dapat iyon iyong pinu-protektahan."
Ebriega has her personal dream for the show, for which she needs the help of The Filipino Channel (TFC), ABS-CBN's international channel.
That dream is to reach the OFW community.
"Siguro, ang dream ko talaga for the show, actually, nagawa na namin iyong out-of-the-country and we focus on Asia, meron pa kaming plans for Ipaglaban to reach out sa mga OFWs.
"There was an initial meeting with TFC, pero hindi pa siya nagma-materialize kasi, with that, we need a tie-up. If we need to dramatize a story sa Dubai, sa lugar na alam mong maraming Pilipino at doon mag-shoot, we need a tie-up kasi alam mong medyo mahal na rin talaga, e.
"Iyon, reaching out sa mga OFW, and para makapagpakita kami ng moral episodes that will help them, lalo na sa mga naloloko, mga illegal recruitment."
Ebriega believes they are on the right track for producing the program.
She says with a smile, "Nakakataba ng puso kapag sinabing... hindi ko naman sinasabing mas maganda pa iyong Ipaglaban sa MMK, pero parang there was a point na na-reach na namin iyong ganoong punto na, equally, the way we produce sa afternoon, hindi na siya ganoon kalayo sa primetime."
"Achievement na iyon pero, siyempre, may limit, e. Afternoon budget iyan, hindi namin siya puwedeng itodo.
"Mas comfortable na kami, pero increasing the budget is really more of... Di ba, alam naman natin anong potential?
"So dapat, nagma-match din doon kasi, kung hirit din kami nang hirit, 'tapos gross profit hindi magma-match, useless.
"Naniniwala din naman ako na when you produce efficiently, and then you sell it well, tatagal iyong show, kaysa umarangkada ka 'tapos lugi ka."
Clearly, Ebriega has her solid experience in the business to ground her lofty dreams.
ABOUT THE BUSINESS UNIT HEAD OF IPAGLABAN MO:
Rizza Gonzales-Ebriega is the business unit head of ABS-CBN's RGE Drama Unit. This unit that produces daily narrative programs and anthologies under the supervision of Scripted Format head Ruel Santos Bayani. Some of her current shows include Maalaala Mo Kaya, Ipaglaban Mo, and the teleserye Pamilya Ko.
Prior to becoming a business unit head, she worked as production manager for several drama programs, such as Tubig at Langis (2016), Wako Wako (2012), Nasaan Ka, Elisa? (2011), and Habang May Buhay (2010).
Before venturing into the production of narrative programs, Ebriega used to work as a producer for game, variety, talk, and reality programs of ABS-CBN. Her past works under this format include: Game KNB? (2001-2009), Star Dance (2005), Showbiz No. 1 (2004), Little Big Star (2006), and Shoutout! (2010).
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Carlough Hermano and Janela Sangil of RSB Scripted Format/RGE Drama Unit