In its 10 years of existence on Philippine television, GMA-7’s I-Witness has become tradition. Every Monday night, its loyal fans stays in front of the television to tune in to another I-Witness documentary, painstakingly well-made by its roster of award-winning journalists.
Sandra Aguinaldo, who has been with I-Witness since 2006, believes her program changed the landscape of documentary-making in the Philippines.
"Noong 1999, I-Witness ang naunang magpalabas ng full-length documentary sa telebisyon," she said in an interview with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal) at the Old Spaghetti House in Quezon City.
I-Witness was not even expected to last. It was assumed that the majority of Filipino viewers do not have the concentration skills to digest an entire documentary lasting an hour.
But GMA-7’s gamble has earned numerous awards here and abroad. Today, I-Witness is one of the longest-running public affairs programs in the country.
Sandra said I-Witness’s success may be credited to the freedom given to the broadcast journalists when it comes to picking their stories.
"Siguro kaya nga siya maraming awards. Parang we do stories na sa tingin namin gagawin namin kasi dapat siyang gawin, kailangan siyang makita ng tao, kailangan siyang matutunan ng tao," she said.
Sandra added, "Mahalaga din yung may say din kami, kung ano yung topic na type naming gawin o malapit sa puso namin. Pero, when we sit down to brainstorm, bawat isa may baon na istorya. Pati yung researcher at yung PA, minsan yung cameraman. Batuhan ng istorya, kung ano yung mas maganda visually at saka content-wise."
Sandra said she gets story ideas from conversations with the people she meets.
"Kailangan sobrang observant ka saka you talk to all kinds of people. Halimbawa kung minsan, pag napadaan ako may nagtitinda ng fishball, kakain ako ng fishball. Tsi-chika ako, sasabihin ko, ’Kumusta ang benta? Saan ba galing ’to?’ Lahat! Taxi driver, jeepney driver, lahat! Nakikipag-usap ako sa kanila. Kasi nandun lang yung istorya somewhere," she said.
The ratings war does not also hamper the range of stories they could do.
"Over the years na nasa I-Witness ako, hindi naman siya yung mindset na parang kahit maganda yung topic mo, we think it won’t sell. ’Sorry goodbye.’ Hindi ganun e. Kaya nga ako natutuwa," she said.
HARD WORK. Sandra said being a documentarist for I-Witness forces her to work beyond her duties as a TV reporter for 24 Oras.
"Kailangan duty ka sa parehong show. Most of the time, yung weekends namin wala na yun. Nasa I-Witness na. Kasi weekdays nasa news kami. Weekends nasa I-Witness kami. Or kung minsan, we even have to take a leave from News, because we want to concentrate on I-Witness," she explained.
Sandra added, "Ang maganda rin dun, while we are covering a story for 24 Oras, makaka-stumble ka rin ng story na puwede sa I-Witness. May mga story kasing ganun, na parang mas bagay sa long form kesa sa news. Minsan meron din kaming mga istorya na nakuha namin sa kinover namin sa news."
Besides, her hard work has provided her awards in journalism. In 2008, Sandra won the PopDev Award for Best TV Documentary for "Nanay na si Nene." In the same year, she won silver medals in both the New York TV Festival and the US International Film & Video Festival for "Iskul Ko Number 1."
At the same time, Sandra gets to change the lives of people in her documentaries. For instance, the kids in "Iskul Ko Number 1" still keep "in touch."
"Tapos may mga nagbigay sa kanila ng scholarship. So they’re still in school kahit na mahirap sila, nag-aaral pa rin. Kaya ko paborito yun kasi nakikita ko talaga kung paano nagbago yung buhay ng mga bata, paano kami nakatulong. Sa I-Witness, you learn to connect. You learn to empathize with the subject," she said.
But whether or not she has changed a subject’s life, Sandra is just happy seeing her work on television.
"Fulfilling siya at the end of the day lalo na pag umere na tapos ang ganda. You get good feedback. Ang I-Witness kasi may loyal viewers. Naka fixed yun, e. Parang nandun lang sila lagi. Tapos you get comments the following day. Darating na yung e-mails nila, yung mga phone calls nila. Rewarding naman," she said.