Sunday 3 August 2014

Interview with Arlyn dela Cruz

Arlyn dela Cruz is Filipino journalist, screenwriter, director, producer, author, and TV and radio host. She has been keynote speaker in several forums and symposiums, one of which was at the International Public Forum on Asia Pacific Security, was once held hostage for 98-days in the jungles of Sulu by an armed renegade group with links to the Moro National Liberation Front, and is a mother of two. Arlyn recently started her own production company called Blank Pages Productions, has just finished her directorial debut and is now in post-production, while gearing to start another film project about a very important person in Philippine contemporary history.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Olongapo City

I was born in San Roque, Cavite City, that is part of Southern Luzon here in the Philippines, but I grew up in Olongapo City where the former Subic Naval Facility was once based.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

To describe a family is to put a label on it, a tag, which I do not want to do. Let us just say that I grew up in a family where, early on, I learned to be independent, embracing the value and worth of hard work, and in believing in your dreams.

When did you first take an interest in writing?

I kept a diary growing up and I started early. At age 7, the writing became consistent, like a companion when I wake up and before I go to sleep. It’s not the first thing that I do to start the day or the last thing that I do to end my day, but there’s not a day that passes by where I have not written a word, a sentence, a paragraph, an entire page on a notebook.
    As far as I can recall, I write anything and everything that comes in my head fuelled by my emotions on every piece of paper that I can write on and then I keep and compile them. As the years progressed, I got to save money to buy an actual diary where I could write words. I grew up bonding wonderfully and magically with words.

Where did you go to school?

I went to Nellie E. Brown Elementary School in Olongapo City. Named after an American teacher, the institution is a public school and one of the oldest in the city and in the province of Zambales. I was Editor-in-Chief of the school newsletter, NEBES Newsetter, for two years, Grade V and Grade VI.
    I finished High School at the Olongapo City National High School, originally named Jackson High School (also named after an American). I finished among the top 10 of my class and got several awards from freshmen to senior year, but I am proud that I clinched what I wanted the most: 'Journalist of the Year' Award. I became a writer for the school paper since my freshman year, joined and won several contests in editorial, news and feature writing in school, division, district, regional and national competition. You could say that I rose from the ranks in the editorial board, from writer-contributor to eventually becoming the Editor-In-Chief for Ang Buklod, the school’s official newspaper.

   In College, I took up Political Science at the Virgen Delos Remedios College in Olongapo City. The school operated for nearly 30 years until the recent acquisition of another college in Olongapo City, a merger with St. Joseph’s School, which now offers College courses. I was also VRC’s Editor-In-Chief for the official paper called The Vision Quest.
Polytechnic University of the Philippines
   Supporting myself as a working student, I was also Managing Editor of a magazine published by a Non-Governmental Organization that caters to the needs and welfare of the street children of Olongapo City, especially during the time of the US Naval Base in the area. The magazine is called Street Lights.
    In Manila, I took up a second course, Mass Communications (Non-Traditional) at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP). I was already a media practitioner, a writer/field reporter for radio station DZBB of GMA-7 when I took this course.

Who was the teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

There is no single name that comes to mind. I remember all of my teachers with fondness in varying degrees, grateful for everything that I learned from them.
    I remember the teacher who did not believe in me. I owe her the strong-will to prove her wrong. I remember the teacher who encouraged me to go on and chase my dreams. To that kind of teacher, the wings of courage I owe.

You were a successful journalist pretty much from the beginning, at the age of 20. Was there some childhood event which fired your ambition?

I have never related any single event or series of events that fired my ambition to be a journalist. All I knew is that I always wanted to be one. I knew that I would write, I knew I would report, and I knew I would be a radio and TV broadcaster one day. It was as if my own visions got tired of me seeing each image in my head that fate and faith, made that into a reality.
    But now that the question was asked, the first time I was asked that particular connection, I paused and reflected. There must be one. There must be something. And there was. Even if they were my own dreams and visions growing up, one can never disassociate his/herself from the environment and the community in which he/she belongs. Olongapo City is a place of many social realities. Exposed and shielded, it is the kind of reality that is based on perspectives.

    I was a young dreamer caught up in the transition transition of drastic and dramatic political and social changes in my country, from the Marcos Era to the Cory regime. Still a high school student in 1986, the pages of the so called People Power in EDSA, I cannnot wait to become a reporter. In 1990, I became one.

You wrote your first book at age 28, A Lifetime of Freedom. Could you briefly describe the events which gave rise to the book?

Let me correct you. I did not write it at age 28. I wrote A Lifetime of Freedom eight years after I became a hostage in 2002 in the province of Sulu. The book tells of a journey of one reporter who in covering and chasing stories in conflict areas in the Philippines, especially Muslim Mindanao, pushed the limit and ended up being a hostage herself. It was a journey of faith as it was a journey of freedom.

I know there has been tension in your relationship with the police. Have you been able to gain their confidence?

To have the trust of the public is primary. To have the trust of institutions like the police is also of importance. I believe, in my 24 years as a journalist, I have both, otherwise I wouldl not last this long in the industry. The tension in the past was more of personal tension brought about by my reporting of exclusive stories that revealed and exposed matters to the public related to some personalities in the institution.
    In general I could say that my relationship with both the police and the military, as institutions of government, remained professional and, to a larger extent, strong.
    As a young reporter, before Muslim Mindanao became my so called area of expertise, Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo were my areas of assignment and, while there are some in the past who were not pleased with the stories that I wrote, I am quite sure I have strong and professional relationship with these two institutions. Many of the officers now occupying key positions were the same 1st and 2nd Lieutenants and Captains then when I was starting on the beat. They knew me from the start and I remain who I am through the years, committed to my calling.

Four people are given writing credits on Captive (2012). How much did you contribute to the film?

I am not comfortable with the question, in the sense that I may send the wrong impression. However, it is public and industry knowledge that I was one of the first reporters in Lamitan, Basilan where the hostages from Dos Palmas in Palawan were brought. The interview with Martin and Gracia Burnham in November of 2001, aired worldwide, was my exclusive. Captive Captive was filmed based on events that transpired related to the Dos Palmas hostage-taking incident, as well as other hostage incidents in those period, to include my own, a month after I got the Burnham exclusive.

We don’t hear much about Filipino movies in Australia. Could you list a few good ones that we might be able to find here?

Himala (1982), with Nora Aunor, the Philippines’ one and only superstar, is highly recommended. To see that film is just a peek of the Filipino filmmaker. I hope you get to see it.

• You have become heavily involved in film production, with one film in pre-production and another currently filming. What can you tell us about these?

I am experiencing a joyful journey of beginnings and discoveries that it felt like I am 20 again, competing with my younger self.
    There are challenges and obstacles along the way but they are all part of the journey. While I remain a journalist, hosting a morning news and commentary for Radio Inquirer, writing a column for Bandera Inquirer, and writing and reporting for the Philippine Daily Inquirer as Correspondent-At-Large, and, yes, you can say that I am really heavily involved with film production these days. If journalism is my calling, filmmaking is a passion unleashed.

The film is finished and it is my directorial debut. It’s called Maratabat (pride and honor). I wrote and directed the project.
    The movie is still in post-production stage and we hope to finish soon.
    Maratabat takes a look at cultural, political and social complexities of clan wars in the Southern Philippines. The movie pays tribute to those who died because of violence between families embroiled in the fight for power and supremacy in their areas. My production team and I intend to enter the film in various international film festivals and we hope we get to qualify at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival in February.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

The Godfather series (1972, 1974, 1990)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Casablanca (1942)
Himala (1982)
Insiang (1976)
The Book Thief (2013)
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Orapronobris (1989)
José Rizal (1998)
Forrest Gump (1994)

What’s next for Arlyn dela Cruz?

It is my intention to continue doing films as I will remain committed to my service as a journalist.
    I have reached a stage in my life where I no longer need to prove anything. What I do, professionally or personally, is simply an embodiment of who I am and who I have become, not so distant from the person that I was in my younger years back in Olongapo City, for in heart and in mind I remain that person who dreams and sees the reality of not just dreams but of visions. Only in submission to God’s love, only in truly believing, everything happens. 


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is a detailed interview with a committed, passionate journalist who has now become a film maker in a tumultuous country.