MANILA, Philippines – The lack of reports from intelligence agencies about top Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon has buoyed President Rodrigo Duterte's hopes that he is dead.
Hapilon, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), was reportedly seriously wounded during military airstrikes in January.
"I ordered the bombing of his house two months ago and we have not heard from him so I suppose, baka talagang patay na (maybe he is really dead). He has not surfaced," said Duterte on Monday, April 3, during a Boy Scouts of the Philippines event at Malacañang.
"But that is their style, mawawala tapos bigla mag-surface (they will disappear and then suddenly resurface), but I hope we got him," he added.
The President refers to Hapilon as the local terror leader who has been "anointed" by ISIS as its leader in the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana previously confirmed communications between ISIS and Hapilon after he was monitored moving from his base in Basilan to Lanao del Norte in Central Mindanao.
According to military intelligence, ISIS ordered Hapilon to leave his base in Jolo to see if Central Mindanao would be more conducive to the establishment of an ISIS wilayat or province.
Citing intelligence reports, Lorenzana said ISIS finds the islands of Sulu and Basilan, where the Abu Sayyaf traditionally operates, too small for a caliphate.
Hapilon is supposedly rallying the support of the Maute Group, another group linked to recent terror attacks, based in Central Mindanao.
Duterte considers ISIS a major security threat and has made addressing terrorism among the priorities of his administration.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.