If you are a student at the University of the Philippines Diliman or if you have ever been there, there’s a high chance you already tried the famous taho of Romeo “Tatay Dong” Corpuz, who’s been a taho seller inside the campus for three decades already. And on Saturday, September 26, we had the opportunity to know better one of the university’s “superstar” after being featured in its latest episode.
According to Tatay Dong, his father used to sell puto while his mother took care of them at home. He and his siblings were always helping each other, too. However, his family was forced to close their factory of puto, thus he decided to come with his brother-in-law to the taho factory where the latter was working and sell taho inside the said campus.
Aside from merely selling them taho, he shared that he often asks the students about their studies that’s why they easily found a father in Tatay Dong.
In fact, there was even one student whom Tatay Dong helped overcome depression – Judith Valdes, who currently works as an elementary school teacher. She recounted having to assume the responsibility of taking care of her mother, who was diagnosed with brain cancer then, when she was on her sophomore year in college since her brothers already have their own families, while her dad was working. Her sister Jianna said that Judith was juggling her studies, her extra-curricular activities, and responsibilities at home, and there would be times that she had to absent herself from her classes for she had to accompany her mom for her chemotherapy sessions.
Because she was struggling to do all her responsibilities at the same time, Judith told Paano Kita Mapapasalamatan that her mental health was compromised and was later on diagnosed with depression. She admitted already losing her energy and drive to do anything, but she still chose to not tell her family as she didn’t want them to worry and see her weak. Until it came to a point where her doctor recommended that she should drop her classes as her depression and anxiety already resulted to Judith harming herself physically.
Fortunately, Tatay Dong was there to give her fatherly advice that truly enlightened Judith about what she could do better. He relentlessly gave her advice from his own perspective as a parent and told her that it would be better if she tells her situation to her parents. She followed his advice and was able to overcome her depression and anxiety. Now, she’s a teacher and gets to help and educate a lot of children through her profession.
Another student that Tatay Dong was able to help a lot without him actually realizing it was his “anak-anakan” Alex Castro, who’s now a lawyer. She shared that the kindhearted taho vendor made it a point to give her taho every morning, either before or after her class. They would share stories to each other or would have a simple “kamustahan” whenever Alex had time.
Just like what he was to Judith, Tatay Dong also became a parent to Alex. According to her, parents already separated since she was one month old, so she didn’t have an idea of what a father figure was really like. And Tatay Dong acted like a father to her and supported her in her endeavors, including her varsity training and organization activities.
In fact, when Alex was running to be part of the university student council, Tatay Dong was there to help her distribute her campaign materials. She would also never forget that one rainy day and she didn’t have an umbrella or anything that could cover herself.
Astonishingly, Tatay Dong unhesitatingly handed her his jacket. Simple yet huge acts like that made Alex realize how much fatherly care and love he genuinely gave her. She became more motivated in her studies until she decided to enter law school.
The 64-year-old has really so much love to give that he was still able to show and give much care and love to her stepdaughter, Aurain “AJ” Cantor-Bautista as he loves her as if she’s his own. AJ reminisced how she would always receive pasalubong from him and how he would always bring her to fastfood restaurants and buy her toys.
She could also vividly remember her birthday, probably her 7th or 8th birthday, when Tatay Dong treated the whole family with a swimming getaway. It’s really evident in AJ’s eyes that she knows that Tatay Dong did not make her feel like she didn’t belong in the family.
However, AJ told Paano Kita Mapapasalamatan that in spite of his presence, she still felt like there was a void inside her that needs to be filled only when she meets her real father. When she found her biological father, she didn’t have second thoughts of going with him even though Tatay Dong didn’t want her to leave. She was supposed to study in Baguio where her real father was living, but he disowned and even forced her to leave after she unintentionally called him tito or uncle.
She went back to Tatay Dong, however, she did not want to pursue her studies anymore. She worked instead, and eventually had her own family. Even though Tatay Dong did not reach his dream for AJ to finish her studies, he still hopes his two other daughters will be able to do so.
Some of the students who were helped by Tatay Dong in his own ways gave their own heartfelt messages for him, thanking him for being the father figure that he has been to them. His wife also appreciates the students of UP as they gave back to Tatay Dong and helped him and his family financially.
The inspiring story of Tatay Dong is indeed a proof that small acts of kindness could certainly go a long, long way. He may not have the luxury, but he was still able to help problem-laden students finish their studies and accomplish their other endeavors through the fatherly love, words of encouragement, sound advices, and amusing humor and stories that he wholeheartedly offers to them.
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