The Marawi City conflict has been all over the news and the name of one of the country’s most wanted militant, Isnilon Hapilon, has come up a number of times. He was initially reported to be a graduate of the University of the Philippines with an engineering degree. In fact, articles about this tidbit of news have gone viral on Facebook, gaining thousands of shares.
However, the University of the Philippines Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs said that they could not find any official record of Hapilon as a student or alumnus.
“Upon verification with the official records of the Office of the University Registrar and the Office of Alumni Affairs, the University of the Philippines can find no record of a former student or alumnus by the name of Isnilon Hapilon,” the statement from the UP VP for public affairs Jose Y. Dalisay read.
“This clarification is being made in light of recent news reports identifying Mr. Hapilon as a UP graduate,” it added.
Based on the records obtained from Basilan National High School, Inquirer reported that Hapilon is a high school dropout.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the ARMM obtained a copy of Hapilon’s Secondary Student’s Permanent Record following reports, citingthe Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the alleged source, that the bandit leader was a UP engineering graduate.
Hataman said, “It’s not true. I wonder where the US-based intelligence operatives got those information.”
Tahira Ismael, a former mayor of Lantawan and Hapilon’s classmate in madrasah (Islamic school) said that he was shocked by social media articles about Hapilon going to UP.
“He performed poorly in academics. Even in Quran reading, trying hard. He found it hard to pronounce Quran in one of the Quran-reading contest in our younger days,” Ismael told the Inquirer in an interview, adding that Hapilon dropped out of high school, having stopped in his second year.
Elementary school records showed that Hapilon got 78 in sixth grade and had many cases of tardiness and absences, which the transcript noted to be because he had to “run errands.”
Rappler reported that he started elementary school in 1978 when he was 10 years old, which is noted to be normal in conflict areas. His best grades were Math, Music and Arts, P.E./Scouting, Pilipino, and Work Education. He was already 17 years old when he enrolled in high school.
After dropping out of high school, Hataman said that Hapilon was spotted joining the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and trained at Camp Omar in Sumipsip under Commander Talib Congo in 1985. The year after, he left Basilan for Sulu to join MNLF’s Commander Ustadz Bashiri. He studied Arabic and madrasah again. In 1992, he returned to his hometown and was chosen spokesperson of Barahama Sali, whose group took several hostages. Sali left Basilan in 1994 in the midst of intensified military offensive.
Hapilon joined Abu Sayaff under leader Abdurajak Janjalani in Sampinit, stopped his Arabic and madrasah training, and looked up to Janjalani as his Arabic and religious adviser.
According to Inquirer’s profile of Hapilon, the militant leader’s father, Hapilon Totoni, was an Islamic priest or village imam, while his mother, Harija Hak, was a housewife. He has five siblings.
Former Lantawan mayor Ismael said that the Hapilons and even their distant relatives left Basilan in 2000 after the government’s war against the Abu Sayyaf.
Upon checking FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists, their profile of Hapilon did include the claim that the militant leader graduated from UP School of Engineering.