The 3 Joyful Couples of Rags2Riches

by Audrey Mae Ferriol on Feb 14, 2017

The 3 Joyful Couples of Rags2Riches

We always have a lot of love going around in the R2R HQ and we wanted to share with you some of them this Valentine's Day! We sat down and talked to three joyfully married couples of R2R––Ate Nhing & Kuya Jhune, Ate Sugar & Kuya Yam, and Reese & Mark––and asked them to share their love story, what for them is a meaningful (Valentine's) date, and their advice for all the advocate-couples out there to keep the love and joy in their relationships.

Read more to find out.

Note: All answers have been translated from Filipino into English so that R2R advocates around the world will be able to understand easily!


Tell us about your relationship.

NHING ESTABILLO (NE): We've been married for 21 years but through a civil ceremony, not a church at that time. But we have been together since 1990.

JHUNE ESTABILLO (JE): Yes, we have been together as a live-in couple since 1990. That was not yet legal. *laughs*

NE: But we decided to get married on July 3, 1996, when we already had three children. We realized we needed to get married then.

JE: The kids were getting older so we wanted them to have a proper family.

How old are your kids now?

JE: We have five kids.

NE: The eldest is 25 years old and works as an inventory clerk––the first one to graduate [as a BS Computer Science major] among my children. The second is a social worker, 22 years old. Or turning 23 years old! She works in Gawad Kalinga. Then I have three more in Grade 11, Grade 10, and elementary. Two will be graduating high school and the youngest will go on to high school!

Congratulations! So how did you two meet?

JE: We met in a carindera (eatery) in Cubao, near the Triple C Market in Arayat. When we met at first, she was always so angry towards me. It was because I always didn’t have a shirt on. She would always get so mad at me … and that’s how we met.

The more you hate, the more you love?

NE: Yes, exactly! At that time, I was running and managing our family's carinderia where all the PUV drivers would eat and he was the janitor in the market. I would see him and would always say, “Sino ‘yun? Eh, para walang pangarap kasi laging nakahubad!” ("Who’s that? He looks like he doesn’t have dreams because he’s always shirtless!”)

JE: I would always wonder why she was so mad at me. I was only shirtless because it was always so hot.

NE: And there’s also that vice of his––always drinking.

JE: That was before! I've changed. When we already had three children, I thought that if I were always like that––always drinking––our lives would go nowhere. We were always fighting so I just decided to change for my family.

NE: Ang haba ng hair ko! 


So how did you fall in love with each other?

NE: Basically, we never became a “boyfriend-girlfriend” thing. It was just all of a sudden, like destiny.

JE: God really decided that we were for each other so he made us meet. We weren’t even close back then. 

NE: He had a girlfriend; I had a boyfriend.

JE: I would just get surprised that she was mad at me when I would court another girl and she would find out.

NE: Well, I thought we had a mutual understanding back then. But then, we never really had a formal courtship. I didn’t even know his name or his family background. We just got together. I don’t know. We were always just talking before in the carinderia.

JE: And I would also get surprised that she would start leaving letters for me when she would leave the carinderia.

NE: Yeah, I would always leave notes to inform him that I would be leaving. I had a habit of doing that before because there weren’t any cellphones or text messages before.

JE: That’s when I found out that she liked me and I decided to get serious with her. I realized that I also liked her when she would leave letters for me. 

NE: Oh, so I was only one who liked him back then! So sorry! *laughs* Well, it was because, before, he was…

JE: I was the shy type.

NE: He’s the kind of man who says so little but when he does, it’s meaningful. And his actions speak louder than words. He makes an effort to show that he cares, even if he would joke around with me before.

What were these actions that showed you that he cared for you?

NE: He would accompany me to the market! He didn’t like it when I would get tired or if I would carry heavy things so he would go with me. He would wake up at 4 AM just to go with me.

Do you still go on dates? 

JE: Sometimes. 

NE: We would always use the line, “Bibili kami ng bigas.” (“We’re going to buy rice.”) Because for me, I’d rather use the money to buy rice instead. But yes, we would still go out on our own. 

JE: Last December, we all went out with the kids. It’s our bonding time. We watched a movie and ate out.

NE: And there are still times when it’s just the two of us eating out to talk to each other. It’s for the things that we don’t get to talk about. We would rarely have the time to have sweet moments between us in private.


How can Valentine’s day be meaningful and joyful?

NE: For us, Valentine’s is not that special. For us, every day should be special. Valentine’s shouldn’t be the only day for us to be happy. 

JE: But there was a time that I gave her flowers during Valentine’s. Our office was still at Cubao Expo. I gave her flowers and cake. Kara David, the photographer, set that up for us for a project.

Think of the most difficult thing you had to go through as a couple. How did this strengthen your relationship today?

NE: It’s normal for couples to go through some difficult things. There was one struggle in our relationship that we wouldn’t have solved if we hadn’t talked about it properly. For us, everything should be discussed properly… 

JE: … to understand who or what went wrong. And a big factor there is really understanding what the other person is saying, thinking, or feeling. If you disregard these things and the next day, it’s like nothing has been resolved, it’s all for nothing. It’s really better that we talk about it. We don’t even tell our children. It’s just the two of us.

NE: These are things we talk about during dinner dates. And I just always want to be honest with him. We talk about how we trust each other.

Do you have any advice for the young couples out there? 

NE: Keep the communication and trust intact. There will always be problems but the key is to talk about them and solve them together.

JE: Yes to communication.

NE: Relationships won’t work if there aren’t any ups and downs. Even if the relationship goes down, you have to work together to bring it up again. You shouldn’t let it stay in that situation. And I repeat: trust and communication. They’re the biggest foundation of a relationship. If you have your full trust in your partner, it won’t be difficult. 




Tell us about your relationship: how long you’ve been married, how many your kids are, etc.

SUGAR ANG (SA): Well, we don’t really celebrate our wedding anniversary. What we celebrate is the anniversary of when we got together. This was on September 16, 2002. We’re going on 14 years of being together. 

But when did you get married? 

SA: But our wedding anniversary is on February 13, 2011. We’re going on six years! But we really don’t celebrate it. We celebrate the day we officially became a couple. So it’s like the wedding isn’t more important than the day we got together as boyfriend-girlfriend.

So tell us that story! How did you get together back then?

WILLIAM “YAM” ANG (YA): Actually, I never really asked her. That day … we just fell for each other.

SA: We were high school classmates, 4th-year high school, at Arellano High School in Manila. I was a transferee and he’s been studying there ever since.

YA: I didn’t court her. We were just friends. 

SA: As in, we knew each other as classmates back then. I forgot how we became friends! We had different circles of friends.

How did you know that you guys were officially together if there wasn’t any courtship?

YA: It just happened all of a sudden. I was in a bit of a rush to get her.

SA: We were just going out together and hanging out normally. And you know how it works when you’re at that age.


How many children do you have and how old are they?

SA: Our special child, he’s 12 years old. The next one is 7 years old and our youngest is 5 years old.


Do you guys go on dates?

SA: On Valentine’s, we don’t. But in general, we do, anywhere!

YA: Our number 1 thing to do: eat. Tokyo Tokyo, Chowking… 

SA: We go wherever I want. My favorite food are in those restaurants! I’m happy with just wanton and siopao.

How often do you go out like this? 

SA: Lately, we’ve been doing it more often since we’re always together now [here in the office]. After work, we go out. If we don’t have the budget, street food carts are okay for us. Simple things like that are our dates.

Aside from food and the simple things, for you guys, how does a date between couples become joyful and meaningful?

YA: Just enjoy every minute you’re together. 

SA: That’s true. When we go out together, it’s like we’re in our own world. We would bump into people and they would comment, “Ah, ayos ah, parang mag-syota lang.” (“Wow, it’s like you’re still just boyfriend and girlfriend!”) We would hold hands, stuff like that.

Do you go on dates with your kids? 

SA: We sometimes bring our kids.

YA: When it’s their birthdays!

SA: Or if we want to go to [Quezon City Memorial] Circle and just go around.

YA: Ah, our bonding nowadays consists of attending Zumba sessions on weekends. 

SA: Yes! Even the children join us. Even him. *points at Kuya Yam* The kids would wake up at 4:30 AM.

Think of the most difficult thing you had to go through as a couple. How did this strengthen your relationship today?

SA: For us, the most difficult thing we’ve experienced is when we were temporarily apart back in high school. We were already together but it was a long distance relationship.

YA: She lived in Cavite and I was left behind in Manila.

How did you survive the long distance?

SA: We would always have phone calls with each other.  We would text. I already had a cell phone so I would call him in the morning before I left for school at 5 am.

How many years did you do the LDR?

YA: Not really years. Just a few months.

SA: He eventually went to me in Cavite when we graduated. I was already working and he was still studying in Manila. We had a slight problem when I wasn’t able to finish school. That was a hard time for us, we were really sad. When we would ask each other how we were over the phone, we would cry.

How did you guys overcome that? 

SA: We would dedicate all our free time to each other. If I didn’t have work, I would go to him in Manila. And if he would have the time, he would go to me in Cavite. We would see each other once a month.

YA: So I eventually had to find work there. It was so far.

SA: It got especially hard when I got pregnant and everything was so new. We eventually lived together in their own house in Cavite. But now, we do still get into arguments or misunderstandings. 

YA: But not the serious ones, like not talking to each other or cooling off from the relationship, no.

SA: When we would get into small misunderstandings and he wouldn't woo me back, I would already get so affected. He knows that. 

YA: Yeah, when I would approach her to apologize or woo her back, she would be pabebe (acting cute or baby-like).

SA: I am not the type to do or say anything if I’d get annoyed with him and that would also annoy him because I wouldn’t tell him why I was being like that! But these things, we don’t let it go on too long. We don’t like going to bed angry with each other. It feels so bad when we do. We talk about these problems until we get to bed really late.

YA: And we never fight in front of our kids. We don’t like it.

SA: They get so affected when they see me crying. For example, I would be crying over a Korean drama I’m watching, they would immediately ask, “Why are you crying, ma? Did you and dad fight?” Even if that’s not the case! 


Do you have any advice for the young couples out there? 

YA: Never let your temper rear its head. If you do and you let your emotions get to you, it will get difficult. 

SA: You can’t be both angry or hot-tempered at the same time. The other person should adjust if the other one is already mad. When I’m the one with the hot head, he would be the calm one. It’s the same case when he’s the one who’s mad.

YA: Both people shouldn’t be mad at the same time. 

SA: Create that balance.

YA: Sometimes, if she’s already mad and shouting, I would stare at her and she would stare back. Then we would both start laughing!

SA: Getting annoyed with each other is normal. If it’s a serious issue, we don’t shout at each other, especially in front of the kids. Our neighbors even comment that they really don't see or hear us fighting!

How about advice on maintaining the kilig? 

SA: That’s important. You have to maintain that.

YA: The kilig factor.

SA: We always tease each other.

YA: What hasn’t changed is the fact that I always make her laugh.

SA: Yeah, he’s always like that. He always has this habit of complimenting me a lot. He would say stuff like, “Tsk, even if it’s been so long, you’re still so, so beautiful.”

YA: Recently, I told her, “Even if you have kids, you still look like a goddess.”

SA: He’s really like that! And I would reply to him, “Hmmm, you’re just teasing me.” But that’s how we are. Just really teasing each other and having a good time. 




Tell us about your relationship: How long have you been together, how you got together or ended up knowing that you liked each other?

REESE FERNANDEZ-RUIZ (RFR): We have been together for a little more than 9 years! December 25, 2007, to be exact. Then we got married December 22, 2010. We got together because we were building R2R together. I actually liked him first! I liked him because he is kind, compassionate, really smart, and loves the country as much as I do!

MARK RUIZ (MR): It really is true that like Rihanna said: We found love in a (seemingly) hopeless place. We got together while starting R2R in an urban poor community. I fell in love with her passion, her values, her intensity, and her feistiness. I also realized that we shared the same vision and values and what we wanted to do in life, which is really social entrepreneurship. So after just a few years, I really knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and so on February 14, 2010, I proposed. Being social entrepreneurs, I thought it best to propose in Hotel Maya, a social enterprise in Culion, Palawan founded by Fr. Javy also from Rags2Riches.

Could you tell us more about your growing little family?

MR: We have a new baby, Miguelito Gwapito Burrito. Actually, he's our second baby. We joke that our first baby is R2R!


RFR: Yes! But he is the cutest.

MR: And so we consciously had to wait a while before starting our family. We decided to go for it last year and were quite happy and very blessed that Miguel Joaquin Ruiz was born on October 12, 2016. He looks a lot like Reese but I think his heart and brain came from me.

RFR: And he is such a happy baby!

MR: A Hapi-Baby! [In reference to Hapinoy, the social enterprise that Mark is the president of.]

RFR: Correction: Joyful baby.

MR: Hapi-Joyful baby, who also happens to be awesome.


Do you still go on dates? How important are these to you guys?

MR: Yes but less since the Burrito came into our lives. Dates are very important and honestly, we're really a simple couple with simple joys and sources of happiness.

Can you elaborate on "simple joys and sources of happiness"?

MR: Movie, dinner out, and an occasional road trip.

RFR: Yes, and just hanging out.

MR: We watch a lot of TV at home and hang out and talk a lot about random stuff.

RFR: We really like each other's company. Like, we are excited to hang out with each other. 

Any TV date recommendations for our advocates?

RFR: Watch Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, This is Us––though Mark still has to catch up on this last one.

So, this Valentine's, if you would have a formula for a meaningful and joyful Valentine's date, what would it consist of? 

RFR: The people you love + comfort food + awesome conversations. It does not even matter where you are, as long as you are together.


Think of the most difficult thing you had to go through as a couple. How did this strengthen your relationship today?

MR: Separating personal life and work! It is so intertwined because of R2R. And I can be very makulit (hard-headed). Right, Reese?


RFR: Yes! It really is about compartmentalizing our time.

Could you explain more on the compartmentalization? 

MR: Oh, I will let my wife answer this. Yari ako eh. (“I’m dead.”)

RFR: For Mark, he compartmentalizes in his mind. So if he talks about work and then shifts to being a husband again, he can do that easily. I can’t! I need the actual separation when it comes to space and time. So if we are going to talk about work, I prefer it to be at work or a scheduled time.

MR: Yes but I often can’t help myself. 

RFR: But it is a lot better now! I think we were both able to adjust to each other's timings and work styles. But yes, Mark is right, he can't help himself sometimes.

Advice for all the couples out there: How can one keep their relationship joyful, meaningful, and healthy?

MR: Choose your partner well from the very beginning! Don't settle until you've found The One. You'll know when you know. Share the same values, vision, and dreams. Make sure that you never forget the fun, light stuff, too!

RFR: Always communicate! This is so, so important! We may think sometimes that being passive aggressive is a form of communication but it is not. You have to be open with each other and, together, build a safe space with each other.

MR: And yes! Always try to understand each other because you are two different human beings so you need to still build that bridge of communication. 


1 comment

  • Christina Alsona
    Feb 14, 2017 at 18:21

    So inspiring stories, tagos sa puso, not because I know them but because what they said are true. A lot of lesson to be learned


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