Jay Taruc brings reality closer to people

For a journalist to tell a story effectively, he/she has to at least take part in the reality that he/she is trying to convey.

Jay Taruc and Kathy Villalon
Jay Taruc, one of the hosts of I-Witness, a late-night documentary program of GMA Network, reveals what it’s like to be immersed in stories that he has made. May it be eating re-cooked food taken from restaurants’ leftovers, sharing a room with burn patients who writhe in pain, or spending days with prisoners.

Q: What’s the hardest documentary that you have made?
A: That would be “Lapnos”. At the Davao Medical Center’s burn unit, there are children screaming in pain as every day, doctors and nurses wash their wounds, apply medication and put on clean gauze. I, the cameraman and the director had to stay in the room for three days in order to document the process and to interview people. So, it was very emotional. 

Difficult. Nanlalambot kami. I have an eight-year-old son and I saw a child there who’s as big as my child. I could just imagine the parents’ suffering watching their child and couldn’t do anything to ease the pain.

Q: Do these emotional experiences get in the way of your job?
A: Personally, it’s normal to feel that way. First and foremost, we are humans. Sometimes, you can’t avoid crying or feeling pity. So, it becomes a distraction to what you, as a journalist is supposed to do, which is to gather facts. So, it should not be in conflict with your job. But, it has happened quite a number of times. For example, three years ago, I slept at the Antipolo City Jail. I spent three days and two nights there. During the last day, I told the prisoners how fortunate I was to be outside and how much I cherished the brotherly care they gave me. Galing ‘yan sa mga taong supposedly nakagawa ng mali sa lipunan. Na-touch ako doon sa pinakita nila. Sometimes, you have to show your emotions.
Besides, I-Witness refers to the first person point of view. ‘Yong perspective mo. Kung 
paano mo na-experience. I’ve done immersion stories na swak na swak doon sa rationale
na yon.

With Ramon Salvilla

Q: Where do you get ideas for topics?
A: Sandra (Aguinaldo), Kara (David), Howee (Severino) and I have our own teams. We have researchers who generate stories apart from our input. Some people would suggest too, like “Pwede nyo bang silipin ang problema namin dito?” So, we verify, do an ocular of the place and confirm the story if it’s true or feasible.
Sometimes my dad would give suggestions. Si Kara, nakakuha din ng stories sa Dad nya. Very helpful ang regional network. For example, GMA Iloilo gave us the story for “Batang Langoy”. They know the area better than us. Sila ang mata namin sa far-flung areas. If we have good leads, we prepare for coverage. Mahirap ding mag-mobilize ng isang team. We have to be sure lalo na if it’s in a mountainous area. Like ‘yong kay Kara na “Ambulansya na Paa” na ang layo. How do we confirm stories like that? We ask the social workers, regional health officers and barangay officials through the regional networks.

Q: Were you able to form personal initiatives from your work?
A: Yes, there’s this desire to help others. Some of these initiatives hindi na naming pinapalabas sa documentary. For example, for the story on “Basurero” that I did, I met this street family in Cubao, Quezon City. Every Christmas we make it a point to meet and talk. I was able to help them find work. Mahalaga ‘yan eh. Hindi ka man nakapagpatayo ng bahay for them, basta in touch ka pa rin sa na-interview at nakilala mo.
With Rosmar Villalon

Q: Has your father, Joe Taruc, made an impact on your work now?
A: Yes. While I was growing up, my dad would bring me to the radio station. Forty-plus years na si Dad sa radio. Siguro, may subliminal influence kasi nakikita ko ang ginagawa nya as a reporter. I have stories that I would sometimes consult with him. He’s an idol. He’s a major influence. Dumadating pa nga sa point na nagtatanong pa ako “What do I ask?” He’s been here for a while na eh.

Q: Have Pinoys caught up with the documentary fever?
A: When I started in GMA in 1993 as a production assistant and researcher for Brigada Siete, at that time, maraming naglabasang news magazine shows. Many people believed that Pinoys were not ready for the documentary format. The United States, United Kingdom and Japan have a documentary culture; we don’t. But when I was still a child, I already watched foreign documentaries because they were included in local television. Who would sit through one hour watching serious topics?
But when I-Witness was launched 13 years ago, Pinoys saw Mike Enriquez doing a firefighter story, Mel Tiangco going to different villages and Vicky Morales riding on top of a train going to Bicol. A lot of people then saw the potential especially when it tackled local issues. I-Witness is aired after Saksi, which is very late already. Students who slept early asked us if we can come out early so they can also watch. So, we have replays in the morning because of this. We also tried to bring it out. We approached universities and the reception was positive. Hindi namin akalain na makaabot kami sa sinehan. Yes, people are now willing to sit for one hour to watch a documentary. We are not star-studded and we’re not earning much but umabot kami ng 13 years. You have to find a way to tell the story in an interesting way. We do the mountain climbing. Kung kailangang kumain kami ng lupa, kakain kami ng lupa, literally. (laughs). We do the dirty job in order to bring the story to the people.

Jay Taruc was in Iloilo City last July 14 to grace the I-Witness Docufest Regional Tour. Shown at the SM Cinema were: Kara David’s “Gintong Putik” and “Ambulansyang de Paa”, Sandra Aguinaldo’s “Batch 2012” and “Iskul Ko No. 1”, Jay Taruc’s “Batang Kalabaw” and “Lapnos” and Howie Severino’s “Saplot” and “Huling Hala Bira”.* (Kathy Villalon and Ramon Salvilla, July 25, 2012 The News Today)

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