Text by Racquel Quieta
Kara David is undoubtedly one of the well-established names in broadcast journalism. In the span of her career, she has produced countless top-rating and award-winning documentaries.
Her success didn’t happen overnight. Her climb to the top was slow and steady. And her career story seems to have been lifted straight out of a classic motivational movie, where the protagonist starts from the bottom and then rises through the ranks.
Kara David shares her inspiring journey with GMANetwork.com, from her humble beginnings to becoming one of the most accomplished documentarists in the country, and also a founder of a charitable foundation.
Kara’s professional journey is full of wonderful surprises and fated events, as she never intended to be a broadcast journalist in the first place.
Kara initially wanted to be a History teacher.
“Ang gusto ko talagang maging trabaho noong bata ako ay maging history teacher.
“So, noong college ako, nag-take ako ng History and I realized na hindi ako happy sa library. Hindi rin ako masyadong masaya sa loob ng classroom.
“Parang I like the academe, pero masyado akong galawgaw, masyado akong crazy para ma-confine sa school. Parang gusto kong lumabas, ’yung ganyan.”
“Tapos hindi ako nacucute-an sa mga kaklase ko. (laughs) Wala. So sabi ko lilipat ako ng course.”
After some coaxing from a friend, Kara shifted to Mass Communication at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
“Kasi nung time na ‘yon, big fan ako ng DWKC,” recalls Kara, referring to the FM radio station that became popular in the ’90s.
“’Yung isang DJ doon ang pangalan ‘Baby Michael’, na si Sir Mike Enriquez pala! Imagine? (laughs) So, fan ako ng WKC at WLS FM, si Triggerman ang favorite ko sa WLS FM.”
“Ayon. Kaya nag-Mass Comm ako. Nag-shift lang ako bigla. Sabi ko ‘Ayoko na mag-History, magma-Mass Comm na ko’…para sa pangarap na makapag-internship sa isang radio station at saka sa isang TV station.”
Kara went on to become an intern in German Moreno’s iconic entertainment program GMA Supershow, which aired for almost two decades.
She recalls, “Ang happy ko naman kasi sina Ruffa Gutierrez nakita ko, Vina Morales, Jackie Lou Blanco…ang dami kong nakitang mga artista doon.”
One would think that Kara would easily land a job in GMA after being an apprentice in one of its shows. And being the daughter of renowned broadcast journalist Randy David, she should have been a shoo-in for any entry-level position in the Kapuso Network.
After graduating cum laude from the University of the Philippines, however, Kara had a hard time applying for a job.
“So, noong nag-apply ako sa GMA, ang in-a-applyan ko talaga ay writer. Ang problema, ang GMA noong time na ’yon, halos lahat ng balita ay nasa English. And hindi ko siya forte.
“Dito kasi sa UP, hindi kami pinupuwersa sa isang lengguwahe lamang. Pwede kang mag-submit ng term paper mo in Filipino, kung saan ka kumportable.”
“I’ve always written in Filipino. Talagang doon ako sanay. Doon ko hinasa ’yung sarili ko. So, hindi ako kumportableng magsulat sa Ingles. Hirap na hirap akong magsulat sa Ingles.”
“Eh noong nag-apply ako sa GMA as writer, English pa karamihan ang newscast, so bumagsak ako sa exam.”
“Tapos sabi ni Ma’am Marissa Flores, ‘Baka pwede kang mag-on-cam? So, nag-on-cam audition ako, tapos sobrang disaster siya, kasi English din siya.”
“So, I ended up being a PA-Researcher [or production assistant-researcher], ’yun ang first job ko sa GMA, kumbaga, to learn the ropes. And, na-enjoy ko siya.”
“Tapos, dahil sobrang bibo kid ako, ayon, may naging kaibigan ako na writer, ang pangalan niya ay John Manalastas – si Boss John ng News – and he agreed to train me on how to write for television nang walang bayad.”
Kara’s hard work eventually paid off when she became a writer for GMA’s public affairs programs Brigada Siete and Emergency.
In her Tunay na Buhay interview with Pia Arcangel, which aired on January 29, 2020, Kara revealed that it was Jessica Soho who recommended that she be promoted to writer, after being assigned on her first field duty by pure happenstance.
Kara recalls the words of the award-winning broadcast journalist: “Sabi sa ’kin ni Ma’am Jess ‘Marunong ka pala magsulat’. Tapos sinabi niya kay Ma’am Marissa, ‘Marunong magsulat itong batang ito. I-promote mo.’”
Kara enjoyed her new role as writer. The experience was, as she puts it, “surreal.”
“Kinikilig ako minsan na ’yung sinulat ko binabasa na ni Jessica Soho; binabasa na ni Karen Davila. Parang kilig na kilig ako. Sabi ko, ‘Shocks. Ako nagsulat niyan.’
“So, matagal ako naging writer bago ako nakapag-on-cam. And I realized na ang saya-saya ko lang, kasi ’yung trabaho ko is what I love to do: writing.”
Kara’s first lucky break as an on-cam reporter came when there was a shortage of reporters during the APEC Summit, and they needed someone to do man-on-the-street (MOS) interviews.
Kara recalls, “So ang life ko sa GMA ay tuwing may nag-a-absent, ako ’yung pumapalit.”
Kara went on to become a reporter for Brigada Siete (1995) and i-Witness (2001), before becoming a news anchor for News to Go in 2011 and host for TV programs Power House (2013), Pinas Sarap (2017), and Brigada (2019).
Not only did these stints sharpen her skills, they also toughened her up as a journalist.
Kara confesses that being a daughter of a well-known and well-respected broadcast journalist and sociologist became a personal challenge for her.
“Ine-expect agad ng mga tao na kung ano ’yung style ng tatay mo ay ganun ka rin.
“Doon sa aspektong ’yon, medyo disadvantage siya kasi parang nakukumpara na parang ‘O, bakit ganyan ang mga ginagawa mo? ’Yung tatay mo napakaseryoso, ganyan, tapos ikaw magpapa-tattoo ka?’ ’Yung mga ganun,” Kara says with a laugh.
“And ayaw mo rin naman talagang mabuhay in the shadow of someone ’di ba? So, naging advantage siya kasi na-challenge ako.”
“Chinallenge ko ’yung sarili ko to carve my own name, na ako ito – na hindi naman minus — pero parang ’yung lalabas ka doon sa anino ng parents mo.”
“And, I think pinatatag ako ng challenge na ’yon. So ngayon, meron nang taong nakakakilala sa akin na hindi nila kinakabit na ‘Ah si Kara, anak ’yan ni Randy’, ’yung ganyan. Meron pa rin, ‘Ah, ikaw pala si Kara. Ikaw ’yung anak ni Randy ah. Wow.’”
Kara’s documentaries are admired for their simple, straightforward style of storytelling that tugs at the viewers’ heartstrings.
Asked how she creates documentaries that do not resort to gimmicks or theatrics but have powerful impact, she says that simplicity is the key.
“Nilalagay ko sa utak ko na I am a storyteller. ‘Paano ko ba pinakamagandang maikukuwento itong istorya na ’to?’ Ganun lang siya.
“Kasi ’pag mas simple, mas sinsero. Wala masyadong palabok. Wala masyadong arte. Wala masyadong gimik.
“Ang gusto namin ’yung pinakanatural, pinakasimple lang. So, I don’t modulate, our music is not so overpowering, ’yung mga effects and graphics sa mga docu namin hindi rin masyadong marami.
“Ano lang siya, as simple as possible, para pakiramdam mo, nandoon ka rin. Kasi in real life, wala namang ‘swoosh, swoosh’ na gumaganon sa real life, ’di ba? So parang we take you with us on the journey.”
Just like everyone else, Kara has had ups and downs in her professional life.
“The year 2005 was the turning point of my life, kasi nung 2005 andaming nangyari sa buhay ko. Tapos isa sa pinakamemorable na docus na ginawa ko nung 2005 ay yung docu na 'Buto’t Balat', tungkol sa malnutrition in Bicol.”
According to Kara, she had wanted to help the three children that she featured in the said documentary, Angela, Jeremy, and Julie Ann.
She even joined GMA’s reality TV show Extra Challenge in hopes of winning the grand prize of 1 million pesos, so she could organize a feeding program for the malnourished children of Bicol.
Kara won the 1 million peso-grand prize in Extra Challenge and the docu 'Buto’t Balat' won the 2005 Best Social Awareness Program Award at the Asian Television Awards and the 2006 Silverscreen Award from the US International Film & Video Festival.
Despite all these, Kara felt as though she failed, because she wasn’t able to go back to Bicol in time to help the three children before they died.
“As in iyak ako nang iyak, to the point na ang sabi ko sa bestfriend ko, who’s also my Executive Producer at that time, si Lloyd Navera, sabi ko, ‘Lloyd, magreresign na ako.’ Sabi ko sa kanya ayoko nang maging journalist. Gusto ko maging health worker or social worker.
“Sabi ko. ‘Ayoko na maging dokumentarista kasi nananalo ako ng award, nananalo ako ng pera, nanalo kami sa ratings, pero wala naman kaming natutulungan.’ So, sabi ko resign na lang ako.”
Kara was determined to leave broadcast journalism behind at the time to become a Social Worker and a professor. Fortunately, her colleagues were able to talk her out of it.
“Kinausap ako ng staff ng iWitness – cameraman, assistant cameramen, ’tsaka researcher. Sinabi nila sa akin, ‘Kara, isipin mo na lang na ang talent na ibinigay sa ’yo ng Panginoon ay ’yung talent ng pagkukuwento. Bakit hindi mo gamitin ’yung talent mo na ’yan para tulungan ’yung mga iba pang bata para wala nang mamatay parang Julie Ann, Jeremy, tsaka Angela?’ ’Yon ang sabi nila sa akin.”
After that conversation, Kara decided to stay with GMA, but didn’t completely abandon her goal of being a professor at U.P. Diliman.
She also pushed through with the feeding program in Bicol and vowed to dedicate at least two episodes a year that will feature children who are in need of help.
Of all the documentaries she has produced, there’s one that has left a mark on her.
“’Yung first docu ko, ’yung 'Gamu-gamo sa Dilim', ’yon ang nagbukas sa lahat.”
“Pagkatapos kong gawin ’yung documentary na ’yon, naging very close ako doon sa mga tao.
“Nakilala ko ’yung tribo ng mga Mangyan. Nakilala ko ’yung unang scholar ng Project Malasakit, si Myra Demillo. Tapos nakilala ko ’yung mga donors ng Project Malasakit.
“’Yung Project Malasakit, ’yung buong foundation na ’yon, ay nanggaling doon sa unang docu na ’yon, ’yung 'Gamu-gamo sa Dilim'. It really opened everything and changed my outlook in life.
“Doon ko narealize na ‘Ay, ito ang calling ko’, doing stories about people living in the remote communities and showing kung gaano sila katatag.
“Ayoko 'yung pinapakita silang kawawa-kawawa. Hindi. Kasi may beauty at strength doon sa kanilang kultura.”
“Hindi man sila naaabot ng ilaw, hindi naaabot ng kuryente, hindi naaabot ng kalsada, hindi naaabot ng ospital, ng ambulansya, pero ang yaman-yaman nila sa bayanihan, ang yaman-yaman nila sa malasakit.”
On top of being a career woman, mom, wife, lector, professor, and triathlete, Kara is also the founder and president of Project Malasakit, a foundation that supports the families she has featured in her documentaries.
“’Yung Project Malasakit, kaya ko siya itinayo dahil ang pinaka-hate ko, ang pinakaayaw kong parte ng paggawa ng documentary ay ’yung tapos na ’yung araw tapos sasabihin mo sa kanila, ‘Cut na tayo. Pack up. Okey na tayo, Nakuha na natin ’yung gusto natin. Uwian na’. Ayoko nung part na ’yon.
“Parang gusto ko ’pag may napuntahan akong community, at pinayagan nila kong papasukin sa buhay nila, sana hindi matapos ’yung relationship namin kapag umere na ’yung docu.
“’Yung may urge to just help them kasi may pain sa puso mo habang ini-interview mo sila, na parang gusto mong tanggalin ’yung pain na ’yon.
“So tinayo ko ’yung Project Malasakit para meron akong avenue kung saan ako pwedeng tumulong. At para may avenue rin yung mga kaibigan ko na makatulong.
“Para naman ’yung mga ini-interview naming mga bata at mga communities na nasa mga malalayong lugar, maramdaman nila na hindi rin sila nag-iisa, na meron silang kasama doon sa burden.”
Kara has seen the fruition of her passion project. This month, Kara congratulated two of their scholars who have graduated from senior high school.
One of them is Bimiana Capuno, a proud and beautiful Aeta from Pampanga, who has been their scholar since she was in Grade 4.
The other one is Edrian Bangngayen, a former child laborer in Abra, whom she featured in the i-Witness documentary "Pulot-Pukyutan" in 2014.
Despite having won several accolades and achieving so much in her professional life, Kara has always kept her feet on the ground.
She believes one should never stop learning and improving, no matter how many awards and plaudits that person has collected.
“Yung boss natin sa GMA News and Public Affairs, si Marissa Flores, siya 'yung pinakauna kong boss, sinabi niya sa akin na ‘You’re only as good as your last work’. Hindi pwedeng magpakakampante ka na kasi ang dami mo nang na-achieve, ang dami mo nang nagawa. Hindi pwedeng ganun.”
“Kailangan improve ka lang nang improve, aral ka lang nang aral nang aral, kasi kung ano man ’yung ginawa mo ngayon, wala na ’yan bukas. ’Di ba sabi nga nila, ‘’Yung dyaryo ngayon, pambalot na ng tinapa bukas?’
“So, dapat ganun mo talaga tratuhin ’yung trabaho mo, na gumawa ka ng maganda ngayon, gawa ka ng mas maganda bukas.”
Kara’s definition of success does not involve counting trophies or basking in her own glory.
“Ang success para sa akin is happiness and contentment, and ’yung nakakapagpasaya ka ng ibang tao.
“Kapag maligaya ka, that’s when you’re the most successful. Ganun kami (sa family). So, hindi kami parang, ‘O, napanalunan ko na ’tong award na ’to. Yehey! I made it’ ’yung ganun. So, hindi namin siya masyadong iniisip.”
Kara doesn’t want to be hailed as a hero for her charity works, either, because according to her, she’s only a mere instrument for those in need.
“Kapag sinasabi ng mga tao na, ‘O, idol kita kasi tumutulong ka sa mga mahihirap, 'lagi kong sinasabi na instrument lang naman ako.
“Isa akong mikropono sa mga taong walang boses o mahina ang boses. Isa akong tulay sa mga taong hindi naaabot ng kalsada. Isa akong salamin sa mga taong hindi nakikita ng gobyerno. ’Yun lang naman ang ginagawa ko.”
Kara has come a long way from being a showbiz program intern to an internationally recognized and respected broadcast journalist.
As she accomplishes many feats in her career, she has also managed to uplift others through her stories and her philanthropic work.
It is undeniable that Kara’s greatest strength as a documentarist is her social awareness, as she has maximized the platform that she has been given, to not only tell stories, but also to take action that would ultimately lead to positive changes in the lives of many.
For all the things she’s done to better the lives of the communities she’s worked with, Kara David is not just an accomplished broadcast journalist. She is a sincere storyteller with a big heart.