The story of 38-year-old Ryan Arebuabo, the “selfless father” in a photo that has gone viral, has touched millions of readers from different parts of the world. Yet, for him, he is no different from many parents who would endure hunger so their children can enjoy a full meal.
Three months have passed since ABS-CBN News first visited Arebuabo and his two daughters, Rose Ann and Rose Mae, in their tiny home in Tondo, Manila.
At first glance, it is easy to think that not much has changed in their lives. They still reside in a four-square-meter space beside a creek filled with garbage and waste. They use only a makeshift bathroom.
Arebuabo, who suffered a stroke a few years ago, still wakes up at 5 a.m. to help his children prepare for school. Rain or shine, he walks them to and from school despite having difficulty getting on his feet.
He stays up in the wee hours to attend to his small cart along Juan Luna Street, selling coffee and cigarettes to jeepney drivers.
Looking at the family’s condition, it’s easy to think they haven’t had any help. But upon closer look, subtle changes can be noticed. Tears turned into genuine smiles and hearty laughs.
A STRONGER FOUNDATION
An ABS-CBN News team met up with Arebuabo on Friday, two days before Father’s Day. He greeted the team with a radiant smile, offered a seat, and began narrating how the viral photo has changed his life.
“Sobrang saya ko. Ang ngiti ko nga, abot tainga na sa sobrang tuwa at pagpapasalamat,” Arebuabo said.
(I am so happy. My smile reaches my ears because of so much joy and gratitude.)
Arebuabo said he continues to receive financial help even until today. After the photo went viral, Arebuabo’s younger sister, Ria Infante, created a bank account for her brother, where people can send money.
Infante said her brother remains prudent about money amid the financial help he has been receiving. He makes sure he only spends money on important matters.
“Para lang sa mga anak ko ‘to. Akala nila kuripot ako, hindi nila alam sila ang pinag-iipunan ko,” Arebuabo said.
(This is all for my kids. They thought I’m a cheapskate, they don’t know I’m saving up for them.)
Arebuabo gave ABS-CBN News a tour of his home, where he proudly showed the newly installed roof, wall, and wooden door. With these improvements, he and his children will no longer worry about the rainy days to come.
“Parang ako ‘yan, matatag na,” he said.
(It’s just like me, it’s stronger now.)
A STABLE SOURCE OF LIVELIHOOD
With all the money he received, Arebuabo was able to buy two second-hand tricycles to augment his income. The tricycles bear the name of his most priced possession, his two children.
“Una pa lang, noong may mga gustong tumulong na pang-hanapbuhay, motor talaga iyong una kong naisip,” said Arebuabo, who believes that one day he’d get better behind the wheel and learn how to drive.
(Even at the beginning when there are those who wanted to help me by giving me a livelihood, I immiediately thought of a motorcycle.)
He has received grocery items that he now sells in his cart. He has also gotten sacks of rice, which he shared with his siblings.
“Dati, kaunti lang ang laman niyang tindahan, pero noong na-feature na ako, dumami na. Noong may mga nagbigay ng grocery, iyon na ang ibinenta ko. Iyong iba, tinabi ko para sa mga anak ko,” he said.
(In the past, our store has very few things in it. When I got featured, it increased. When people gave me groceries, I sold those. I saved some for my kids.)
With these new sources of income, Arebuabo now makes P500 a day, good enough to put a decent meal on the table and support his children’s basic needs.
In his past interview with ABS-CBN News, Arebuabo only asked one thing for himself — to be able to avail of therapy. After he suffered a stroke in 2013, he has always dreamed of undergoing treatment. He wanted to restore his normal mobility so he could get a stable job.
A wellness clinic in Binondo volunteered to give him free therapy sessions until his movement improves. His brother personally takes him to the clinic, three times a week, using his new tricycle.
“Iyong paglalakad ko, mabilis na. Iyong kamay ko, dati hindi ko maiangat, ngayon kaya ko na,” he said. “Minsan kapag hinahatid ko sa eskwela ang mga anak ko, sinasabi nila mabagal akong maglakad. Pero magmula noong pumasok ‘tong therapy, ayon dire-diretso na.”
(I’m walking faster now. My hands, which I can’t raise in the past, I can now move… Sometimes when I walk my kids to school, they tell me I walk so slowly. But ever since I started therapy, I can now walk with ease.)
But, perhaps, the most priceless gift he received is the scholarship that actor Piolo Pascual promised to provide to his children. According to Arebuabo, the actor who is playing his character on “MMK” this Saturday, pledged that he will pay for the children’s tuition in a private school.
Infante is currently looking for a private school, where the nieces can be enrolled. The school supplies they’d be needing will be shouldered by a local bookstore.
“Wala na po akong hihilingin pa,” he said. “Basta makapag-aral lang iyong mga anak ko. Iyong gamot at pera, sandali lang iyon. Pero kung iyong mga anak ko, nakapagtapos sila, wala na akong mahihiling pa.”
(I couldn’t ask for anything more… I just want my kids to get an education. The medicine and the money, that’s just temporary. But for my kids, when they finish their education, I couldn’t ask for anything else.)
Pascual also gave him a brand-new phone that he can use to call him if he needs anything.
“Taos-puso ang pagpapasalamat ko kay Piolo. Binigyan na ako ng cellphone, pag-aaralin pa iyong mga anak ko. Sobrang laki ang pasasalamat ko sa kanya,” he added.
(I thank Piolo wholeheartedly. He gave me a phone, he’s sending my kids to school. I am so grateful to him.)
Apart from using the phone to communicate with his relatives and Pascual, Arebuabo is also using it to take photos of the people who come to their house and offer their help.
According to Arebuabo, he will be forever grateful to the person who took the viral photo, to those who shared his story, to those who helped, and to those who silently prayed for him. He also assured that all the help he’s been receiving will go to a good cause.
“Hindi ko pera iyan, para sa mga anak ko iyan. Para sa kinabukasan nila, at para hindi sila matulad sa akin,” he said.
(That’s not my money, that’s for my kids. For their future, so they won’t end up like me.)
A day before Father’s Day, Arebuabo is planning to have an advance celebration with the whole family. He asked Ria to prepare menudo and fried chicken, a simple meal they’ll share together as they watch how a selfless father persisted through the toughest times.
Story: Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News