Sulpicio Eribal Jr. spent most of his life angry. But because of Tzu Chi, he was able to open his heart and unload his emotional baggage. He discovered joy and love as he made up for past mistakes.
He had fun watching others suffer. Whenever bored, he would entertain himself by throwing sand on the faces of passersby or by sneaking up on random strangers and rubbing crushed pepper on their eyes. He derived amusement from seeing them squirm and struggle.
He enjoyed picking fights. “I antagonized anyone who would talk to me so we would always end up arguing,” he says. It was impossible to have a decent conversation with him.
He liked to hurt people, he admitted to being very violent.
“I was mad at everybody, especially at my family,” he reflects. He hated coming home and preferred scavenging for food over sharing a meal with his parents and siblings. “That’s how much I detested them, I would rather eat garbage than be with them,” he explains.
In his late 50s, Sulpicio Eribal Jr. realized that all the anger he carried throughout his life is rooted in childhood. As a pre-schooler, he had a speech abnormality which prompted the teacher to send him home. Instead of providing comfort, his family laughed at him. He also experienced abuse from his father who was very strict and would lash him with a belt at the slightest misbehavior. He resented his mother for never coming to the rescue. “I felt rejection from those I expected to be on my side, I felt that my family was not there for me,” he elaborates.
But that’s all in the past now. At 60, Eribal claims to be a changed man. Tzu Chi volunteer Regina’s talk was the first to strike a chord with him. “She said that when we plant rotten seeds in our hearts, what we sow will also be rotten. I had been bitter all these years that’s why nothing good ever happened to me. When I opened my heart, everything took a 180-degree turn,” he attests. He says he has forgiven his father who has passed away. “Now I realize that my family loves me and I am determined to extend love to them and to all those who need it”. He keeps his mobile phone close so he can readily take the call of his very sick brother who rings every now and then to air his pain. “I want to be always available to listen to him,” he reasons. Failing to hold back tears, Eribal goes on to say how he has so much to make up for.
He is aware that he cannot undo the past. He laments how he might not even have enough time to make amends. But he is doing his best and making the most of the life that he still has. “I want to leave good memories. I want to be remembered for who I am now, not for my dark past,” he discloses.
He has given up his vices, no more alcoholic drinks for him. He exerts effort in being kind to his current partner. He has apologized to everyone around him for his shortcomings. “I am grateful that I had the opportunity to say sorry to my mother before it’s too late, I am glad I am still able to embrace her during my visits to Tarlac during her birthdays,” he expresses.
Most important of all, he has reached out to his children and showed them that he is no longer the delinquent father that they knew. “Despite my faults, I would like them to feel that I care about them,” he declares. Looks like his intentions are bearing fruit. Lately, he has been receiving some affection from his children. “I am so touched when they address me with ‘po’ and ‘opo’ and when they kiss me before they leave the house,” he reveals how priceless their respect is.
He continues to be in disbelief for all the blessings he has received since his transformation. “They are above and beyond what I thought possible. I never imagined I would have a regular job in my senior years nor did I think that I will be able to pay for my own home,” he shares.
As a member of the maintenance staff at Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines, he reports to Jing Si Hall in Agno, Quezon City at least an hour early, six times a week. He has a reserved demeanor but is quite gregarious around his peers. “I am the funniest in the group, I’m friends with everyone,” he describes himself. He is now everybody’s Kuya Boy.
Outside his official duties, he participates in the Foundation’s relief efforts. Once he was assigned to shovel the charred remains of a residential community burned to the ground. “It was tiring but I was so happy doing it,” he recalls. During another event, he had to carry a folding bed for a beneficiary. Before boarding a tricycle, the frail old lady he assisted wept and hugged him out of gratitude. He beams with pride at the memory, “it feels so good to help”.
He credits Tzu Chi for where he is now. “I learned about love in Tzu Chi,” he points out. “I am not here only for the salary. I attend all the seminars and talks. And I share what I learn with my family. I bring copies of the Tzu Chi newsletters when I go home to Tarlac, I show around the Buddha Day photos and tell everyone I’m part of the formation,” he relates with a sparkle in his eyes, clearly proud.
He singled out an incident where the mayor of San Mateo, Rizal bowed to him. “People used to be repulsed and disgusted by me, they used to see me as good-for-nothing. But it’s different now and that’s because I am with Tzu Chi. The dignity that I have found here is worth much more than any amount of money,” he enthuses.
Eribal believes that every child is born good-hearted and innocent but their character is tainted by their environment and upbringing. He believes that parenting determines how children turn out. “Parents should express how they feel and show love to their children. When reprimanding, they should be clear about the reasons”.
To those walking the path he used to tread, he suggests they rethink their actions. “I just have one question for them: what do you think you will get out of what you’re doing?,” he asks. “Then I will tell them what I got for all my misconduct. Nothing. That was my prize, nothing,” he reiterates.
“What if I didn’t get into Tzu Chi? What if I had died without being able to convert to a better person? I would’ve missed out on so much, I would not have known what love is,” he asserts.
This love gave him the courage to come out in the open and share his journey despite the shame and fear of being judged. “Maybe my story can help change lives. Maybe I can inspire and make a difference. Maybe this is the purpose behind my pain,” he concludes.