Malacañang said it has received reports that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon may have escaped from Marawi City but made it clear that none of them had been verified.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said that if it could be proven that Hapilon, the designated leader of the Islamic State (IS) group in Southeast Asia, was outside Marawi City, it would indicate that he was a “coward.”
“In response to the nagging issues of whether Isnilon Hapilon is still in Marawi or not, there has been information saying that [Hapilon] has left Marawi and abandoned his group… Granting that this is true, it would be a clear sign of his cowardice because he abandoned his companions and has ran away from the battle,” Abella said during a press conference.
“It may also be indicative of the infighting that may now be going within the group. It may be a matter of time before they disintegrate or self-destruct,” he added.
Abella issued the statement following reports that Hapilon may have escaped from conflict-torn Marawi City, which was still occupied by local and foreign terrorists in an attempt to establish a caliphate for IS fighters.
The attempted siege in Marawi was triggered by a botched military operation on May 23 to arrest Hapilon, who has reportedly been suffering from injuries.
According to previous reports, Hapilon, on the US most wanted list of terrorists, may have attempted to go back to Marawi after leaving the city a few days ago.
Hapilon was indicted in Washington for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans in the Philippines and has a $5-million bounty on his head from the US government.