Roofless boy. Ruthless life. Rusty lifestyle. This is the kind of life that a seven year old went through for more than a decade. A way of life that almost crippled my entire existence in this complex world. But am not hopeless!
I was born on April 11, 1989 from a mother’s womb whom I never knew who she is, in the little barrio called Florida, in Butuan City. A second son of Rodolfo Quintana, who also had children with other women.
When I was 7 years old, my older brother and I left from our troubled home and barrio, and went to Cagayan de Oro City to try to change our fate. We stayed at Divisoria- a park at the center of the said City. One day my brother went out to look for something to eat. I stayed at the crowded park with fear while waiting for my brother to come but he never returned.
Left alone in a very new place, full of fright and confusion. It was then that I started to steal for my stomach was already craving for food. I was caught, but it was okay for me to get beaten as long as I am not hungry. I picked pockets. I met friends with the same feather with me, and we would sniff rugby and there I found partners in crime. We would climb up houses’ gates and steal clothes, bikes, gas stoves, and any item that we could sell to junk shops. We smoked marijuna, tried shabu, and took cough syrup (children’s medicine)…our survival kit.
We would be caught by local police and detained in our precincts, but would eventually be freed because we were still minors. Many times that me and my law-breaking buddies would be caught and were sent to Mother Theresa Foundation – Home for Street Children, or to Tahanan ng Kabataan, or to House of Love. Name any orphanage homes in the city and we were once their clients. We stayed there for values formation. Being as we were, the values didn’t absorbed in our heart and mind, so we would escape these institutions (and sometimes bring new recruits with us) and continue our usual criminal acts. However, it is only in these institutions that I spent Christmas Eve inside a home but most of the years of my young & delicate life, the season of hope was spent along the crowded streets of the city.
At one point, my companions and I entered a secret society, a criminal organization where wit and physical strength was the basis for survival. As part of our early training, we would pair up, wrap our hands with thin cloth, and fight to submission. When we passed the death-defying tests with our young hands using deadly weapons like knives, then we will be given a final task like holding up jeepney passengers and I acted as a lookout of this notorious act.
Eventually, these boyhood acts of stealing and holding up people for food started to lead to serious consequences. One night, a couple of friends whom I hadn’t seen for a while invited me to go out and have fun. Little did I know that the money they were ought to spend was stolen. Before we could use it to have fun, a pair of masked men halted our pedicab and rained bullets on us. Out of the four of us, including the driver, I was the only one who managed to run away with my life and survived.
I am a come and go boy at rehabilitation center and institutions. Then, in one of my release moments, my older brother, the one who left me when we first arrived in Cagayan de Oro City, came back to my life. Seeing him, I thought that my life would turn out to be better instead he only led me to greater harm by bringing me back to the streets with riskier criminal assignments.
Once again, I was sent to Mother Theresa Foundation – Home for Street Children and the Regional Rehabilitation Center for the Youth (RRCY). Altogether, I stayed at the former for four years and the latter for two years. There, I started to think about my situation.
With no brother around (who is spending his jail time) to pester me with another criminal jobs, I would climb up a favourite tree and look down at my surroundings. It was my favourite pastime, and it made me ponder on important things. Later on, I met an old man who sold flutes and asked him for one. My friends and other street children would play and work below me, and I’d look down and played my flute. I saw them and thought about my future. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted to pursue.
One afternoon, after being released from RRCY, I saw a painting displayed near the City Hall. It was about a boy up a tree, teary-eyed while playing his flute. I saw myself in the painting and was emotional as well. The next day, I saw and watched a man painting in Divisoria. His name was Rhyan Casiño. We shared stories and talked about art. It was the start of my artistic career. With Casiño’s assistance, I painted and displayed my artworks at galleries. Together, we started the Dire Husi (Here, Friend) Initiative.
At the top of my favourite tree at Divisoria Park, I was overwhelmed looking at the view of the majestic buildings of Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan. I dreamed—what if I enrolled in that school? I only got bursts of laughter from my friends when I shared the idea. But I decided!
Instead of being disheartened by those laughter and mockery, I felt the challenged of pursuing the idea. I first stood at the door of a classroom at City Central School to listen and observe the classes. I did this almost every day, until a teacher called me and advised me to enrol in the school’s Alternative Learning System. I immediately ran to the ALS Office to have my name listed as a student. I was accepted in a once-a-week class. I was overjoyed. Every Saturday, I would sit in the class and listen intently to my teachers on basic education. On weekdays and on Sunday, I would wash cars and run chores so I could have something to eat and buy materials for my schooling.
In 2008, I graduated from ALS. The next step was the big step: enrolling in Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan. I took the entrance exams, and to my delight and surprise, I was accepted and was eligible for two scholarships. I chose the Henry Howard Scholarship, complied the requirements and I was granted full matriculation with allowance. However, it was very hard for me in complying the needed documents because I have no papers. But I did everything I could to complete them. I applied for an NSO birth certificate, and discovered that I had records.
When I was finally enrolled in Xavier University, my heart burst with thrill and excitement. I was happy. I marvelled at its buildings, canteens, open fields, and saw pretty women. This is it, and I made the impossible possible. They welcomed me and classmates with grand seminars -workshop-and parties. And I befriended many students from the university. With my bubbly personality and witty remarks and remarkable hair, I was became popular in my department, the College of Agriculture.
The friends I met, helped me start with my studies, exams, and assignments. At the start, it wasn’t easy to manage. There were hard subjects, hard teachers, and hard classmates. But with my determined attitude towards studies, I slowly gained confidence. I pursued my study…I passed subjects, I failed subjects, but I never stop.
During my second year in college, my father, along with my brother, found me. I fought them and blamed on my father of his being irresponsible and just accept things as they were. He apologized, and I forgave him. We lived together in the weathered, wooden house I was renting.
With my siblings around, an additional burden to consider with, in which instead of focusing on my studies, I have my father and brother’s daily needs in my agenda and budget. I sold paintings and ArtPens, I sculpted, and tattooed henna for our needs.
My life seems brighter and not rusty anymore because I was chosen as one of the representatives for the British Council’s I Am A Change Maker Fund Awardees, also a representative of Cagayan de Oro City for the 9th National Youth Parliament, a volunteer , was a delegate at Kabataan sa Mindanao Natin, an Aspire Awardee (Launchpad Magazine), guested a local and national TV shows, was published in various magazines in Mindanao, and was one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO) Awardees, which gave me the opportunity to shake the hands of the 15th President of our country, no less than His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III.
In 2012, I met Joe Bacus of Imoortals Productions, my classmate in a Development Communication class. We made a short film as a class requirement. Following that, we made another short film until we made Ika-3 Putahi, which won Best Film in a film festival in Cagayan de Oro in 2014, and to my surprise and delight, I also won my first Best Actor award. It was followed up by another Best Actor award from the film The End of War, which also won as best film during SalaMindanaw International Film Festival and earlier this year at the same film festival, Cinemagis.
When I was fourth year, my group mates in our thesis subject dropped out of our project. I was left to myself, and I felt almost hopeless. But I talked to some of my friends and I got help, then I went to Malitbug, Bukidnon to shoot a documentary about my thesis topic on “Applying Indigenous Knowledge, Skills, and Practices in Peanut Farming”. With my friends’ help and my skilful endeavour, I was able to pass my thesis.
Then on March 2015, I finally earned my long-awaited diploma…I graduated from Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan with a Bachelor’s Degree in Development Communication.
With this mountain of desire to make great change, I am working hard to help and inspire other “Rusties” and the youth. I am their advocate on rediscovering the meaning of life!