GMA exec sues Sarah Lahbati for libel

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Yahoo! Southeast Asia Newsroom

A word war between GMA Network and Sarah Lahbati has escalated into a legal battle, with an official of the television giant filing a libel suit against the young actress.

GMA Films President Annette Gozon-Abrogar has lodged a libel suit against Lahbati before the Makati prosecutor's office, GMA said in its official Facebook page Thursday.

Related story: Sarah wants to void contract with GMA, network refuses

"Instead of trial by publicity, the case will now be brought to the proper forum," the network added.

This, as it noted that a subjudice rule is applied pending cases and "parties who continue to talk about the issue in public can be held in contempt of court."

'Under-the-table' deals?

The libel suit comes after Lahbati accused GMA executives particularly Abrogar of going into "under-the-table" deals with talent management firm ICONS.

The home-grown Kapuso star said Abrogar and GMA Artist Center (GMAAC) head Arsi Baltzar had been forcing her to sign a co-management contract with ICONS amid promises of projects and endorsements.

Also read: Sarah Lahbati Feels 'Neglected,' Announces Hiatus

Lahbati said she declined the offer because of the additional 15-percent cut on her salary, adding that a total deduction of 40 percent is "too steep."

The actress went public with alleged illicit arrangements as GMA accused her of violating her contract for deciding to go on an indefinite leave for a trip to Switzerland despite the network's disapproval.

The contract violation controversy, Lahbati claimed, is only being hyped to deviate focus from "bigger problems" of illicit deals involving high-ranking officials.

Related story: GMA-7 to investigate Sarah Lahbati

"It has been three days since Ms. Annette Gozon Abrogar uses (sic) GMA news to bombard me and make my image look bad," Lahbati said in a Twitter post late Wednesday.

"Why can't you give a statement about your involvement in ICONS management company dealing with GMA?" she added, addressing Abrogar.

'Baseless' accusations

GMA slammed the actress' accusations, saying in a separate statement Friday that its news arm "has fairly aired both Sarah’s tweets and the network's statements."

Lahbati therefore "cannot accuse anyone of using the Network's News Department to make her image look bad," GMA added.

The network also stressed that Lahbati's claims of "under-the-table" deals are "baseless," adding that an investigation has been launched to verify the actress' complaint last November.

Also read: Annabelle Rama addresses Sarah Lahbati pregnancy rumors

"The Network found no proof of her allegation that there was an 'under-the-table' deal between GMAAC and ICONS Management," GMA said, reiterating an earlier statement.

This, as it noted that it is "strictly implementing" prohibitions and penalties for any illicit deals involving executives or employees.

ICONS referral was only for 'branding assistance'

Abrogar meanwhile clarified that "she never asked or referred Lahbati to ICONS for a co-management contract."

"The only referral to ICONS that was ever made was for branding assistance, not for co-management, in order to get more endorsements," Abrogar said in the statement.

Amid the verbal spat, however, GMA has said that Lahbati should fulfill her obligations with the network, noting that "a unilateral cancellation of the contract by Sarah alone" is not possible.

Lahbati was the Ultimate Female Survivor of the fifth season in GMA reality talent show "Starstruck." Her projects with the network included soap operas "Kokak" and "Makapiling Kang Muli," where she had been given lead roles.