MANILA— The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said the strong resistance put up by Islamist militants in Marawi City confirms that Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon remains holed up in the area.
“Sa ngayon, may impormasyon at naniniwala kami na nariyan pa siya at maaaring ito ang dahilan kaya ang pag-depensa sa mga ilang lugar ay nagiging matindi,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.
Mindanao Hour, launched Monday, is a daily authoritative update on what is happening on the ground in Marawi City and relevant regions in Mindanao that aims to provide the public with carefully vetted news from authoritative sources.
Hapilon, who carries a USD 5 million bounty, was the subject of a military operation when clashes between government troops and Islamist militants erupted in Marawi City last Tuesday.
In the ensuing battle, the ISIS-inspired terror group took over a hospital in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, established several checkpoints within the city, burned down several government and private facilities and inflicted casualties on the part of government forces.
Its members were even shown flying the flag of the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in several areas of the city.
This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place Mindanao under martial law for a period of 60 days on the grounds of invasion and rebellion.
The AFP said that getting Hapilon is at the center of their operations to clear the remaining pockets of resistance in Marawi.
The military operations included the use of precision airstrikes to expedite the clearing process as well as to protect both security forces and civilians.
“Nasa interes po ng bayan, nasa interes po ng bawat mamamayan ng Marawi na makuha po siya,” Padilla said.
In the meantime, official figures released by Malacañang Monday morning showed that 61 terrorists have so far been killed in nearly one week of clashes, while the government have lost 18 of its forces — 15 military and three police personnel.
The number of civilian casualties was pegged at 19, all in the hands of the militants.