Jeff Canoy was celebrating his 28th birthday with work friends when the torrential downpour started. The rain refused to let up and their fun was cut short.
“We all received text messages from our bosses telling us to get ready to head out.”
A reporter of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, Jeff was assigned to cover Malabon. In an e-mail to Inquirer Super, he wrote, “When I received the assignment, it sounded simple. I didn’t know that the city was isolated until I got to Edsa. I had to hitch a ride with a delivery truck carrying tons of fish just to get to Monumento. When I got there, our news crew moved to a Philippine National Police (PNP)-deployed truck which was heading straight to Malabon.”
While people were evacuating and rushing to safety, Jeff was headed towards the deep waters.
“It’s part of the job. Heading toward an affected area is basically heading for the office. Doctors work in hospitals. Bankers work in banks. Times like these, our office is where the disaster is.”
It took Jeff and his cameraman Romel Zarate three hours just to reach the City Hall. Soon, they found themselves in Barangay (village) Tinajeros, one of the worst hit areas in Malabon, covering the rescue operations.
“Hundreds of residents were trapped in their houses after floodwaters submerged their community. We were with the PNP’s Special Action Force unit. They were trying to save as many families as they could with what little resources they had.”
Realizing this, Jeff chose to shoot his report not from the safety of a rescue raft but while submerged in almost neck-deep water.
He said, “I failed Math thrice in college. But this was simple. There were hundreds of people that needed a seat in a rescue raft. There were less than 10 rafts there. I did the equation and opted to swim. I didn’t want to take a seat away from the people who needed it.”
He added, “I didn’t want my job to get in the way of the rescue.”
The resulting news clip, which aired on “TV Patrol,” got a lot of attention. A number of people tweeted about the report including journalist Karen Davila who wrote, “Guys… did you see @jeffcanoy’s stand-upper? Isa siyang “swim-upper”—grabe ka! Ang lalim nun ah.”
Jeff was surprised by people’s reactions. He says he didn’t think what he did was a big deal. “I did receive tons of text messages and tweets from friends, colleagues and strangers about the story. Which was weird. It wasn’t the first time that I swam in floodwaters. And I wasn’t the first journalist to do it. I was just doing my job. All in a day’s work.”
The only people he was expecting to hear from were his parents. “I was waiting for an angry call from my mother. And sure enough, she called a minute after my live report asking me to explain what the hell she just saw on national television. Hahaha!”
Jeff says the past days have been a blur. “But there’s one image I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Residents of Brgy. Tinajeros who were lucky enough to be spared from the flooding gathered in a corner. They brought out bowls of hot soup for their neighbors who weren’t as fortunate. Kids who were rescued were shivering so the soup made all the difference. It was comfort food at its finest. The soup was the community’s love letter to the victims: You’re saved. We’re here. And everything will be just fine.”
Jeff isn’t new to covering disasters. When asked about his most memorable experiences as a journalist, he said, “Spending Christmas in Iligan City to cover Typhoon Sendong. Living in Irosin, Sorsogon, for a month to cover the restless Mt. Bulusan. Sleeping in a basketball court somewhere in Infanta, Quezon, after facing the wrath of Typhoon Basyang. Getting trapped on the rooftop of a mall in Rosales, Pangasinan, during Typhoon Pepeng. Wading through floodwaters during Typhoon Ondoy just to get stories from Cainta on air. Reaching the isolated town of Maconacon in Isabela during Typhoon Juan.
“The daily grind of traveling six hours from Tanjay to La Libertad to cover the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Negros. The arrest of Andal Ampatuan Sr. The latest one is spending my birthday in Malabon for a weather disturbance we don’t even have a name for.”
And, he says, all these experiences taught him two things. “You’re a human being first, a journalist second. Also, it should never be about you. It’s always about the people.”