Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año on Monday told the House Appropriations Committee that terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon is still in Marawi City and has so far survived the deadly clashes between government troops and Maute gunmen.
"Based po sa aming information ay buhay pa si Isnilon Hapilon," Año said.
He declined to give a time table on when the conflict in Marawi will be finished.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in July said Hapilon was hiding inside a mosque in Marawi.
Lorenzana told lawmakers on Monday there is no plan to allow U.S. drones to conduct bombings in the city. He said this has not been discussed and U.S. drones can only be allowed to do bomings if there is a concrete agreement between Manila and Washington.
Año also said the U.S. cannot be allowed to directly intervene in the conflict in Marawi unless there is an invasion by a third state.
"The presence of Maute is not covered," Año said.
Lorenzana said there are around 80 to 100 U.S. troops currently in the southern Philippines who are advising the Western Mindanao Command.
He also said the Philippines' alliance with the U.S. remains unchanged.
Lorenzana said that while military exercises between the two sides have been either discontinued or revised, the Philippines will also develop relationships with other countries like China and Russia.
He also said China has not reclaimed new features in the West Philippine Sea.
"Ito 'yung naumpisahan gawin 3 years. Wala silang kinamkam na bagong features diyan… alam natin ang ginagawa nila diyan," he said. "We have satellite pictures of their development in that area."
A U.S. think tank, however, revealed last week that China has continued to reclaim areas in the disputed sea, contrary to claims of Beijing and Manila's top officials.
The Department of National Defense is seeking a budget of P195.47 billion for 2018, 8% higher from P181.36 billion in the previous year. - report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News