GMA-7 airs side on controversial I-Witness episode

By Nonoy Lacson

GMA, the  producer of  “I-Witness” gave their written explanation to Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Saliman regarding their episode entitled “Panday” which was aired on May 6.

(Screengrabbed from YouTube) (Screengrabbed from YouTube)

GMA, I-Witness Senior Program Manager Joy Madrigal also acknowledged the negative reaction of Gov. Saliman to the content of the episode “Panday,” but said “We have no intention to disrespect and malign the province and its people.”

Adding that I-Witness takes to heart the stories that they did and the people they interview with sensitivity and respect.

Madrigal also said that prior to the production of “Panday,” (who acts as community health worker), they already understood the sensitivity of the story.

The documentary only sought to present the role of a “Panday” amidst her community particularly in Basilan province, according to Madrigal.

Madrigal said  it is unfortunate that Gov. Saliman found the documentary unfavorable, thus, “we would like to take this opportunity to explain our side.”

In her letter explanation to Gov. Saliman, Madrigal said that late last year,  they came across the study of Dr. Sitti Amilasan on the practice of female circumcision of Yakans in Basilan. It was the first time our group heard of such practice.  We decided to do further research on the story and held pocket production meetings to discuss the topic.

For this reason, we went through a thorough process of consulting various groups regarding the story.

In fact, we spent several months doing our research. We consulted the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines, we contacted Dr. Sitti Amilasan, the author of the study that served as basis of our documentary, coordinated with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and even the local government.

In her letter to Gov Saliman said “We were surprised when issues like the spelling of “Panday” and the attire of Ka Embong came out.   Dr. Sitti Amilasan, a Yakan herself confirmed that both spellings—“Panday”  and “Pandey”—are acceptable.  This was also confirmed to us by the Institute of Islamic Studies of the University of the Philippines when we consulted them.   According to both, there is no required attire in performing the ritual of female circumcision. “

When we (I-Witness Team)  reached Basilan, we met Ka Embong, the “Panday” in the documentary who identifies with the Yakan but is also half Tausug.

Ka Embong is also a Kah Dayang, a teacher who acts as a health worker. There was a significant discussion about their role in the documentary, that the Kah Dayangs are first responders in the community during emergency cases, bringing patients to hospitals.

Even Ka Embong acknowledges this.  We reported an organized structure not present in all communities.

The documentary also acknowledged the developments in Basilan and recognized the efforts of the government to augment health services through medical missions such as the one documented by the team in Barangay Baluno in Isabela, Basilan.

As much as we want to visit other areas in Basilan, we were advised by the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as well as our contacts, that it was risky to move to other places due to a recent beheading incident of three men by an unknown group.

In the future, we will consider coming back to Basilan to do more stories about the province and its beautiful people. We hope that you will welcome us and our team.”