Tale of a 'fighter'

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Saturday, April 28, 2012


THE street was his abode, his only family. Many instance he tried to change his life. But the street seems to have pulled him back.

Rustie Quintana loved the street. He also hated it the same way the street loved and hated him.

Rustie grew up in the rustling streets of Divisoria, which he called then “Isla Di Mabanlas.” It was his home while he was five -- without a family nor an identity or a recollection of where he came from. He had lived a life of a street kid 17 years ago.

Just like any street kid that we see with ragged clothes and old slippers asking for alms, little Rustie did the same to survive after his older brother left him at Divisoria when he was five. His brother looked for food but never came back.

At that time, Rustie said he didn’t know why his brother left him.

All alone, Rustie learned to become street smart and sold cigarettes, cellophane and newspaper and became a carwash boy and shine boy. He did anything to survive.

At 11, Rustie was into drugs, snatching, picking up locks in commercial establishments and got involved in an “elite criminal group.” He did nothing but trouble. Police precincts became his second home as he went in and out of jail for petty criminal acts like stabbing and drug pushing.

Many times he was sent to the Tahanan ng mga Kabataan in Carmen but always managed to escape since according to him, he missed his home in Divisoria.

Later, Rustie was jailed at the Lumbia Detention Cell due to drugs and was transferred to the Regional Rehabilitation Center of Youth (RRCY) in Butuan City.

At the rehab center, Rustie said he became a changed person. He became very religious and was one of the smart kids. He became an eloquent speaker and got engaged in sculpting, painting and music.

After two years, he was released from the center and all his criminal records were erased. He was as good as new as he embraced the world again alone. But he later returned to the streets doing the same stuff but at the same longed to be a change person.

One time Rustie came upon a painting of Rhyan Casiño that was on exhibit at the Tourism Showroom in Divisoria. The painting showed a boy playing his flute with a blooded hand.

Rustie says he was mesmerized by the painting as he saw the boy in himself. He then climbed a tree and realized his life after seeing from up view his fellow street kids washing cars, asking alms and selling cigarettes.

“I said to myself then that I must do something now. I will not be forever young. I am 16 now. I must achieve something for my future,” he shares as he recalled having pointed a finger at the nearby Xavier University where he dreamt to study.

But he has no birth certificate and doesn’t know how to read and write. Because of this, he became so hungry to learn how to read and count numbers. This determination led his feet to City Central School where he was allowed to sit in. And this started everything. He realized he was already enjoying every learning moment. He was a fast learner and was encouraged by a teacher to enroll at the Alternative Learning School (ALS) so he could pass Grade Six.

The teacher accompanied him to ALS inside City Central School and for several months, Rustie intensely followed its online module. He then took the elementary acceleration exams and passed. A year later, he took the ALS high school module.

A natural fast learner, Rusty was also able to pass the exam, the same thing that boxing champion Rep. Manny Pacquiao took.

In 2008 while playing his flute near the Park Café in Divisoria, Rustie accidentally met Casiño who was intensely staring at him while sketching. Out of curiosity, Rustie approached him and got amazed to see a similar stroke of the painting he saw at the Tourism Showroom.

Rustie befriended Casiño who was then a budding artist but is now the coordinator of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in Northern Mindanao Region.

Rustie said he idolized Casiño, citing that his painting was the tool to his awakening.

From then on, Rustie was inspired to earn a decent living not from stealing, as what he formerly does. He did different arts such as henna tattoo and became the first living statue. He made art out of scrap materials as his main source of living.

Casiño also encouraged Rustie to continue his studies. Since he wanted to study at Xavier University, he prepared for the entrance exam by reading books inside the National Bookstore. He was able to pay the P200 entrance fee from his income in doing henna tattoo at Divisoria. He did pass the exam with 97 percent, the highest among the takers.

Rustie was then admitted at Xavier University as a Howard scholar, the highest scholarship grant of the university, giving him the chance to go through a four-year course with monthly allowance. He took up Development Communication course but has to double time especially in minor subjects. Luckily, he was able to maintain his average grade and continuously availed of the scholarship.

Now at 22, Rustie will be in third year this June. And while school opening is still more than a month away, he busies himself with his group called Deri Husi that he and Casiño organized when they were given with a P100,000 grant after submitting their life story to a British Council grant competition dubbed “I Am A Changemaker.”

Rustie stands as custodian of “Deri Husi,” which means “rest here my friend.” He was able to teach 30 street kids various forms of arts such as making beads, playing indigenous instruments, fire dancing, painting, human beat boxing or the art of imitating animated sounds, and many more. It was only at Deri Husi that Rustie was able to discover himself as an artist.

He recalls that when he was 11 years old, he made a portrait of a creature with tentacles using only guava sap as medium. A foreigner who passed by Divisoria noticed the crude painting on illustration board and bought it for P500. That was his first sell.

From there, he graduated to fire dancing and now a member of the 7 Tribes Band as an indigenous percussionist. The band was a national finalist in the 2011 season of ABC 5's Talentadong Pinoy.

The 7 Tribes Band and the Deri Husi performing group are now receiving invitations outside Mindanao. Rustie himself has continued making beads and his first passion -- painting. He averages around two paintings a month that sells between P15,000 to P26,000.

But he did forget his roots. Using records from the National Statistics Offic, Rustie was able to trace his ancestors in Butuan City and secured a birth certificate for the first time. He then learned that his biological parents separated after his birth and was left to the care of his elder brother who left him. He learned his brother was arrested for petty crime.

He also learned that his biological father mortgaged three hectares in Barangay Florida, Butuan City. Using his Deri Husi earnings, Rustie was able to get the land back.

Despite his overwhelming turnaround, Rustie remains a humble person.
Rustie only wanted to learn how to read and right. But now, all his dreams are coming to reality. He can now afford to buy what he wants. He no longer sleeps in cardboards since he already has his own pad. And he is no longer a street kid.

After finishing Development Communication, Rustie says he plans to proceed to law.

An ounce of faith, a volume hope and a lot of courage and determination has indeed transformed Rustie’s life.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 29, 2012.

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