THE reported escape of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon from Marawi City has yet to be confirmed by the Department of National Defense (DND), as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), officials said on Friday.
“We are still verifying,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a text message.
“There are actually conflicting reports of him (Hapilon) still being inside (Marawi) and his escape,” he added.
Hapilon, said to be the “emir” of the Islamic State (IS) in the Philippines, reportedly fled Marawi City amid military operations against Maute terrorist group members.
Hapilon is said to have led the Maute group in planning the attack on the Muslim-majority city of Marawi, as shown in a propaganda video of himself and others plotting the attack.
The May 23 attack stemmed from the botched military operation to capture Hapilon. It prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the whole island of Mindanao.
AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. echoed the DND chief’s reply, and cited 1st Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista who had said Hapilon was still in battle-ravaged Marawi.
“[The report] is not confirmed. Major General Bautista mentioned he is still inside [Marawi City],” Padilla said.