Elpidio had been a student of Fr. Dion. He had left behind Bongao to attend Mindanao State University, in Marawi and still in a Muslim region, and there for the first time became convinced of the virtue of waging Jihad against “disbelievers and hypocrites,” yet because of the influence of Fr. Dion his feelings lacked a sharp focus. (Being away from the friar didn’t help him feel any more secure.) The kindness shown to him by his teacher had an effect, such as the gifts that help pay for his college education. Fr. Dion saw Elpidio’s potential right off the bat, whereas other students struggled with basic academic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, this boy had a foundation in all three before he entered school. He had gotten that from someone. Fr. Dion was never quite sure who in the boy’s family had taken the time to give him a head start. Even as a small boy he (Elpidio), according to the friar, had an inquisitive nature and asked questions “about everything under the sun.” This was at a very early age when other boys his age were more interested in swimming. It took everyone who knew him aback, especially Fr. Dion, when they learned the boy they knew in Bongao had taken “a rightful position” that led to waging Jihad from the jungles and the mountains of Basilan. Actually, Fr. Dion could never see the astute, gentle boy he knew ever posing a threat to anyone. In any event, when Nick and I brought up the contact we had with the rebels on Basilan, our host smiled and said the secessionists were in “enlightened” hands. This, Fr. Dion said, gave him hope, as he continued his struggle for peace. The connection he believed might give him a role in any attempted reconciliation. In fact, he thought he could walk into the jungles and the mountains of Basilan and find a friendly Elpidio.
Even allowing for the fact that Fr. Dion’s former student shared his first name with the top Muslim revolutionary leader Elpidio Quirino (and in some instances their paths crossed causing even more confusion), they weren’t related. Then Fr. Dion recalled how disturbed he was over the bounty on Quirino’s head, because of the risk that it posed the two men who shared the same first name. (Bear in mind Elpidio Quirino taught at the University of the Philippines and was there when Nick first arrived) Fr. Dion then said, “I remember going to the head of the Constabulary in Isabella and begging him to allow me to bring Elpido in to him. It seemed unbelievable to him that the Muslim leader could be in hiding on his island. He said he would like to see proof. I told him that it was quite likely that I could bring him to him. Would that be proof enough? I’m sure he thought I was a lunatic, though because I was a priest he wouldn’t have let on, and said I was free to go anywhere on the island, though he couldn’t guarantee my safety.” The audacity shown by Fr. Dion…and, one could almost add, stupidity…must’ve seemed remarkable to the commander. I could see this crusader for Christ facing a band of Muslim crusaders by himself in the jungle. I began to wonder if, without being aware of it, Nick and I had run into Fr. Dion’s student (a tip off may have been the shelve of books in the nipa hut of the leader we met on Basilan). He had been friendly enough…he hadn’t been a professor at the University of the Philippines…and he seemed to know a great deal about the Meranaos of Marawi. Fr. Dion said to us, “Elpidio never allowed me to get close to him, only his band could then. This was very evident to me. He once told me that he always would be indebted to me and around here that means forever. This is the culture and is a strength and a curse. He was always political.” But then Fr. Dion turned really serious: “You see Elpidio, my student, because of his name, did have a bounty on his head. No one around there actually knew what Elpidio Quirino looked like. The two of them have the same build; both are Muslim men. I have since met Elpidio Quirino. It’s amazing how much alike the two of them are. It was as though Elpidio Quirino had been my student and I had helped him get his start, and in a sense, that seemed possible, because we shared many of the same ideas. Judging from how well we got along, I say there’s a possibility of lasting peace in Sulu.