Elpido’s father worked for the prominent noble Halun family, the family that ruled the village and owned ¾ of the island. Datu Halun emerged from the era with having the main thoroughfare of Bongao named after him. Elpidio’s father was raised in Bongao Poblacion itself, a community that grew from a collection of stilted houses, and in one of those the family still lived. As a child, he was in the water all the time. He learned to swim as he learned to walk. He was not only an excellent swimmer but also a diver and earned a living diving for pearls. It was said that he could hold his breath longer than anyone else. Then he went to work for Datu Halun, overseeing private oyster beds. Elpidio took after his father and loved the sea.
Sometimes Elpido went with his father and knew how to handle a boat and navigate by the stars. Imperfect pearls were brought home, sorted, and sold. Elpidio would’ve followed in his father’s footsteps had it not been for his mother and her insistence that he get an education. There was also a pact between the parents that Elpidio should be more successful than they were. They were also aware of the dangers inherent in the pearl business and didn’t want their son exposed to them. Too often pearl divers had to fight off pirates.
If Elpidio personally knew the Datu, he never let on that he did. Later, he talked about his father’s employment with his classmates. Elpido was held in high esteem because of it.
As a young child, Elpidio’s mother came in contact with the original Oblates of Bongao. The town was a small, peaceful, isolated place then; and children were more or less free to roam because everyone looked after each other. She had a lot of energy and curiosity; while her mother stayed at home. Yes, she was different from her mother, and different from other women there, different in almost every way. Elpidio’s inquisitiveness, his quest for knowledge, and his boundless energy came from her. She was lively … had a winning personality. Her unbridled spirit gave her confidence. It allowed her to approach people, something that was frowned upon.
Elpido’s mother was the one child of the family people remembered, and when, after Fr. Francis returned following the Second World War (during which he was interned at Santa Tomas in Manila) it was not surprising that she was one of children who frequently joined the priest on his porch for story time. Because of Fr. Francis (notably his retelling of classical Islamic stories), she taught herself to read. She wasn’t encouraged to read at home. Still she loved to read and passed it on to Elpidio. Storytelling also became a family custom and continued because Elpidio’s father wasn’t home much, but he didn’t object to his son being sent to the Norte Dame school. He perhaps knew better than to object. .
During Elpidio’s years at the Norte Dame school, his mother paid attention and continued the boy’s education at home. It was a way she could continue her own quest. She was into literature. Perhaps she was the only Moro woman who read both the Bible and the Koran completely through. She particularly enjoyed stories based on Moro-Moro comedies: except she often changed the endings. She had Muslims defeat Christians instead of the other way around. Regardless, Elpidio didn’t have a choice but to enjoy literature. So Elpidio grew up around the Norte Dame school. At an early age his mother took him there to hear some of the same stories she enjoyed.
Fr. Deon taught his classes in English, all of his classes, so that his students would have a command of English. His classroom was also filled with pictures and maps of other places, among them landscapes of Canada and New England that reminded the Oblate of home. There were two Oblates, who live together. The house, like the school, was western. It could’ve been Manila or Quebec, and Fr. Deon tried to make it as conducive to learning as possible.
Most of the students were Chinese, children of Chinese merchants. Most of them were connected with China and had relatives in Sabah (Borneo). And they took sides (in the Sabah dispute) but couldn’t afford to express their opinions. The Chinese controlled the economy and enjoyed the benefits. They were also predominantly Christian, and that was the reason they sent their children to the Norte Dame school.
Elpidio aspired to be a teacher, maybe a college professor. He looked up to Fr. Deon and started out modeling his life after him, but that changed when he went to college.
Elpidio was the wanderer of the family. He was fond of sailing. He once sailed all the way to Borneo. There he found relatives, heard stories about a common ancestry (and thought they should join together to create a new nation), and made friends. He made a practice of making friends wherever he went. Fr. Deon was responsible, along with his mother, for Elpidio’s love of geography. And thanks to Fr. Deon he learned about Canada and the United States, and he always regretted that he never got to travel abroad. He never considered Borneo part of foreign countries, though it was divided between Indonesia and Malaysia.
He learned also about the unrest in Northern Luzon. He saw the great migration from Northern Luzon to Northern Mindanao …. refugees from the Huk revolution (as a student at Mindanao State University in Marawi)…and when he ran into radicals at the university, he was naturally drawn to them. He soon became a leader.
To his mother, Elpido was her most heroic child. Since he was her first child and a son it was hardly surprising. And she never made it a secret, which other members of the family resented. She said she didn’t play favorites, but she did. Even when his siblings became prominent in their own right, they never received the recognition their older brother did. They were all educated and intelligent and contributed to the development of Bongao, and they all attended the Norte Dame school.
As a student of history and literature, Elpido excelled at Mindanao State University. He studied there for four years, earned a BA degree, and each summer, he returned to Bongao, only to disappear and wander around the Sulus. He had already turned radical. He attended meetings and organized them. He was inspired by the Bangsamoro mujahideen before he joined them.