Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon is still hiding somewhere in Marawi, a military spokesman said yesterday, dispelling speculations that the alleged emir of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia may have escaped the city.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces spokesman, said they checked the report of Hapilon’s supposed escape and found no proof.
“Ang announcement ni Major General Rolando Bautista, ang Task Force Marawi head natin, ay hindi po. Hindi po ito napapatibayan, hindi po ito totoo at naniniwala sila na nandoon pa,” Padilla said during the “Mindanao Hour” briefing in Malacañang.
Reports have said Hapilon may have fled the city amid intensified military operations to take back Marawi from armed groups.
Hapilon, who joined forces with the Maute Group in launching the attacks in Marawi, has a P10-million bounty on his head.
The military is gaining “more foothold” in the inner areas of Marawi, said presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella in the briefing.
Abella said the enemy resistance is “dwindling by the day” while clearing operations are “progressing positively.”
The military still faces some difficulties such as the armed groups’ use of human shields as well as madrasahs and mosques as defensible lairs and staging areas.
“Additional compounding development is the discovery of tunnels that are possibly part of a network which may have been utilized by the enemy,” Abella said.
Padilla said the military still has no information on the extent of the tunnel network supposedly used by the armed groups.
But he said old Marawi folks explained the tunnels were built several years ago as escape routes for residents in times of conflict.
“If you remember, historically there was a siege of Marawi a long time ago. I think in the ‘70s, 1972 if I’m not mistaken. And that siege may have prompted some of the people in Marawi to plan routes of their escape if ever there are any more of this in the future,” Padilla said.
He said the tunnels “could have been also areas where people can take safe haven in the event that bad elements come into their houses or in their area.”
Padilla also said that as of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the number of civilians rescued from the conflict area has reached 1,561.
Thirty-eight enemies were killed and 138 firearms were recovered in the fighting. On the other hand, 39 policemen and soldiers and 20 civilians were killed in the conflict
An estimated 1,000 residents trapped in the conflict have yet to be rescued. (Genalyn D. Kabiling with reports from Francis T. Wakefield)