MANILA, Philippines -- Filipinos are said to be among the happiest people in the world. But some could very well be happier than others -- despite affliction.
Born to a construction worker and a laundry woman, Rommel Arellano lost the use of his legs at age one due to polio. Since then, he learned to live with discrimination.
“'Nung nasa elementary ako my mother used to carry me and kailangan isakay sa kariton para dalhin sa school. May mga pagkakataon na my father, papasanin ako. We would cross fields tapos ako na lang mag-isa,” Arellano said on ANC’s “Headstart” on Tuesday.
“May mga tao noon sa barrio sinasabi kaya nagkaganyan ‘yan sinumpa ‘yan. ‘Yun ‘yung gusto kong image na baguhin sa public -- na ‘yung family ko has nothing to do with my disability,” he added.
“Discrimination was very rampant during my childhood. I used to crawl with my hands and ia-associate nila ako sa ibang bagay, gaya ng bulldog, spiderman,” he recalled.
Despite his situation, Arellano learned to fight his fears and to stand on his own.
"One of my favorite games was patintero. And football, although I use my hands to punch or kick,” he shared. “I mingled to prove that even if I’m different physically, I can play what they want to play."
"Ang hirap ho sa akin kapag umuulan, ‘yung tilamsik nung kalsada, putik sa damit ko, but it didnt stop me from going to school,” he added.
Clinging to the promise of education, Arellano learned to defy the odds and focused on counting his blessings, despite battling depression and even questioning his faith.
“Bakit ako? Do I deserve to suffer this? Those were my questions. Na-realize ko there might be a purpose. It’s about survival, claiming the dignity I deserve, so I moved on,” he said.
His ability to rise above life's difficulties, his positive outlook and sunny disposition inspired a friend to make a pitch for him to be the poster boy of happiness of Cebuana Insurance Solutions Inc.
“I was nominated by one of the store managers of a Cebuana Lhuillier branch of Pera Padala. Sabi niya gusto kitang isali sa Search for the Happiest Pinoy because I was inspired. She wrote my story and submitted it to Happiest Pinoy,” he said.
Earlier this year, following a 12-month search, the 35-year old bested more than 10 finalists and 13,000 bets to claim the title of “Happiest Pinoy.”
“I just love to smile,” Arellano said. “I believe that when you smile at somebody kahit hindi mo siya kilala, he will smile back at you.”
Today, life smiles back at Arellano as he chooses to be optimistic and to be an inspiration to others.