MARAWI CITY, Philippines – Military spokesmen maintained on Friday, June 9, that Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon is still in Marawi City, denying reports that he has slipped through the military dragnet.
In Marawi, Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera maintained that Hapilon, the supposed "emir" of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Southeast Asia, is still inside the combat area.
In Manila, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said the same. He said a military probe disputed the claim.
"Hindi po ito totoo at naniniwala sila nandoon pa (It is not true. They believe he is still there)," said Padilla.
Hapilon was the target of the military raid on May 23 that triggered heavy clashes with the local terrorist groups. (READ: How a military raid triggered Marawi attacks)
Reports that Hapilon escaped surfaced as the military discovered "tunnel networks" in the heart of the combat zone.
"Old folks in Marawi said that those were already tunnels that existed before because of previous conflicts," said Padilla. The previous siege of Marawi in the 1970s prompted locals "plan routes of their escape" in anticipation of future conflict, Padilla added.
They have yet to determine the extent of the tunnel network that yielded "caches of arms and ammunition."
The tunnels were found underneath houses and buildings. They were discovered during "clearing operations, and the search for firearms, explosives and the clearing of potential traps, or booby traps that can hurt civilians when they come back," Padilla said.