The journey of the sick and injured from a poor Mangyan town in Oriental Mindoro to immediate medical care is steep, muddy, and often harrowing; as their worried families back home face more hardships in the horizon.
This is the subject of "Ambulansiyang de Paa," the I-Witness episode that recently won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award—the oldest honor in electronic media. I-Witness (which airs every Monday after Saksi) is among the 36 critically-acclaimed programs all over the world that were chosen to receive the honor, which is now on its 69th year.
"Condemning deplorable conditions while celebrating neighborly valor and ingenuity, the report shows how people in a poor village carry their sick and injured over dangerous terrain to distant medical care using 'ambulances on foot,'" the Peabody Awards site states.
Hosted by Kara David, "Ambulansiyang de Paa" showed how residents of a poor Mangyan community of Apnagan in upland Oriental Mindoro transport their sick and injured to medical care. It aired March 2009.
In the episode, Kara met several residents of the community who walk the line between life and death. One of them is Lowen Tayo, who has tuberculosis. Despite the relative ease of curing TB now, Lowen's sickness has worsened due to the town's lack of medical facilities. Just as badly situated are John Lloyd and Wendy. John Lloyd has broncho-pneumonia and hernia, while Wendy has severe burns all over her body.
Since the hospital is a long way from their community, one can only wonder how their conditions may be remedied. The "Ambulance-On-Foot" or "Ambulansiya de Paa" appears to be these people's only recourse. The patients are brought to the nearest health facility on foot by their neighbors and loved ones using only woven hammocks.
Director Nowell Cuanang, shares that shooting in such a remote, rugged place was an enlightening experience.
"I almost fell off a cliff, almost got bitten by a snake. But we were touched by the Mangyans. Despite their conditions, they weren't complaining, and were always smiling... Their foot ambulance required unity and team work. It was a triumph of the human spirit," he says.
"It hasn't sunk in," host Kara David says of "Ambulansiyang de Paa" winning the Peabody. While happy, she also admitted to feeling guilty about winning an award when "there has been little change" in the subject of her documentary. A year after the documentary aired, she said there is still no health center in the barangay.
Executive producer Angel Directo adds, "More than the honor this award brings, we hope that this will draw more attention to the plight of those without proper health care in the country so that their conditions may finally improve."
Other members of the award-winning I-Witness team are former program manager Kristoffer Brugada, executive producer Lloyd Navera, cameraman Disney Carreon, assistant cameraman Aldrin Lacson, and researcher Wilma Sesaldo.
This is the second time that the Kapuso Network was recognized by the Peabody Awards. In 1999, the documentaries "Kidneys for Sale" and "Kamao" by Jessica Soho and her I-Witness team and Jay Taruc's child labor story on Brigada Siete brought home the country's first ever Peabody.
"Winning the Peabody for the second time is a great honor and blessing for GMA News and Public Affairs and the Philippines," GMA Network's Senior Vice President for News and Public Affairs Marissa Flores said. "We are inspired to do even better."
The 69th Annual Peabody Awards ceremony will be held on May 17, 2010 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. It will be hosted by Diane Sawyer, the award-winning anchor of ABC's World News.