Becoming Pacquiao

Cate de Leon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Buboy Villar started helping his father collect garbage in Cebu at the age of three. He barely made time to play. It’s hard to imagine a three-year-old whose main concern is helping out his family, but that’s what his early forays into consciousness were like.

He was turning five years old when his parents decided to try their luck in Manila. They were under no illusions that life wouldn’t be difficult here as well, but they assumed that there would at least be holes that they could find and wriggle into in order to make a living and put rice on the table.

Buboy decided to audition for the talent show Little Big Star and famously had to sing for a skeptical security guard who at first wouldn’t let him into the auditions. “Marunong bang kumanta yan? Ang liit-liit!” the guard reportedly said. His win opened up so many other shows and projects, including being the side-kick brother to Marian Rivera’s Darna. Every time she yelled the classic line, “Ding, ang bato!” he took and completely owned the scene for those few seconds.

Buboy went straight from picking up trash to stardom. There was no transition. And yet he registered with such a pop on screen. His voice was theatrical. His movements and expressions were quirky and almost caricature-like, and yet still looked very seamless on him. He may not have had the white skin that local showbiz uses as its standard, but he filled the space and his character’s mold to the brim. It was impossible to not take notice of him.

So much so that I was a bit taken aback when I walked into the interview venue and saw him sitting there with the demeanor of any regular teenage Filipino boy in jeans and a cotton polo shirt. I’ve seen a lot of artistas off camera. Even on their most regular days they have a subtle but conspicuous air about them. In Buboy’s case, if I hadn’t done prior research I wouldn’t have known that he was my subject. He kept to himself and spoke softly to his mother, who also had his little nephew in tow.

So when he says that the celebrity is really nowhere in his head, that it’s all work, and that he still plays basketball with tricycle drivers and construction workers (who are the ones who can sometimes find the arrangement weird), I believe him.


But Buboy has transitioned from being a little boy to a teenager, and the “awkward” stage caused his career to slacken. This scared him, and even his mother would tell him not to grow up lest he run out of projects. “Ang hirap namang pigilan nun,” Buboy jokes.

The 15-year-old remained undaunted, however. “Kung tatamlay ka, merong para sumigla ka. Ganun din po yung sa career ko. Yung vitamins ko, nag-pray ako. Nag-pray ako na alam kong tumamlay ako, pero merong isang project na babalik sa akin at magtutuloy-tuloy. At nangyari nga po yun,” he says.

Buboy will now be portraying the young Manny Pacquiao in the movie Kid Kulafu, which is set to hit theaters on April 15. And he is visibly excited to be sharing the story behind the world boxing champion we know today. So excited, in fact that he says he has done 101% of his homework, from wracking his brain on how to attack the role, watching all the Pacquiao movies, studying the way he speaks (“Yung pagiging Bisaya niya hindi na mahirap kasi Cebuano naman ako. Check na ako dun.”), down to the movements and body language. Buboy is even more used to boxing like a left-handed person now than the right-handed person that he is.

Perhaps it also helps that they both came from backgrounds of economic hardship. Buboy credits his early years spent flattening tin cans with who he is today. “Kung hindi siguro ako nagbasura, hindi titibay ang loob ko. Hindi ako mangangarap eh. Hindi ako mangangarap na sana paglaki ko matulungan ko yung magulang ko. Sana paglaki ko makakain kami ng masarap.”

He looks up to the boxing champ for his “pagtitiis,” and believes that the most important principle in life is to never give up. “Enjoy lang yung buhay. Wag masyado seryosohin.”

Simple lang pangarap ko,” he says. “Maging masaya lang. Maging masaya kaming buong pamilya. Kapag masaya ka madali na eh. Wala ka nang iisipin na problema. Yun lang talaga ang gusto ko.

Perhaps one of the most endearing things about Buboy is that even at a very young age (at the time of publication, he would have turned 16) he already epitomizes the Every Filipino Man—his perseverance and lightheartedness combining into a resilience that may not know any bounds. He is an underdog who came out swinging (literally) through faith and hard work, while remaining to be one of the simplest, most unassuming people one could possibly meet. Can you really blame the universe for pushing breaks like this onto his plate?

* * *

Tweet the author @catedeleon.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with