A group of right-wing, anti-Chinese fanatics was behind a foiled plot to bomb Manila's main airport, the Chinese Embassy, the country's largest mall and the head office of a major construction firm, the authorities said.
"Apparently, this is a misguided group," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters.
Initial investigations showed that the three suspects arrested early on Monday morning were frustrated with the Philippines' "soft" approach in its dispute with China over territories in the South China Sea, she said.
She added that the trio, in documents seized from them, also railed against the "monopolistic business practices" of the country's richest ethnic Chinese tycoons.
They were arrested at 1.45am on Monday at the Terminal 3 carpark in Ninoy Aquino International Airport as they were about to plant an "improvised incendiary device" inside one of the terminal's toilets. The device had an impact radius of up to 10m, according to investigators.
The government recently announced plans to move the operations of three airlines, including Singapore Airlines, from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 this month.
Ms de Lima said the trio were also plotting to plant bombs at the SM Mall of Asia, owned by Mr Henry Sy, a native of Xiamen. He has been named by Forbes as the country's richest man.
Other targets were the Chinese Embassy and the head office of property firm DMCI, owned by another ethnic Chinese, Mr David Consunji, ranked No. 6 in Forbes' list of richest Filipinos.
DMCI was accused last week of hiring some 100 Chinese who stayed in the Philippines illegally to run one of its power plants.
The suspects were charged with illegal possession of explosives yesterday. They are Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon.
Guerrero is a self-styled "general" of a right-wing group known as USAFFE, originally the name of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, a World War II grouping. The group's Facebook page identifies itself as the "United States Allied Freedom Fighters of the East Part 2", and its newsfeeds are littered with commentaries condemning China's "drastic and devilish act of creeping invasions" of Philippine territories. USAFFE is also asking the US to recognise the Philippines as its 51st state.
Until now, resentment towards ethnic Chinese here has been directed at the amount of wealth they control rather than their ties to China.
Chinese-Filipino tycoons and their families were targets of a wave of kidnappings that peaked in 1996, when 170 cases were recorded, prompting Fortune magazine to tag the Philippines as Asia's "kidnap capital".
The Philippines and China are locked in disputes over a smattering of shoals, reefs, atolls and islets in the South China Sea.
Political analyst Alex Magno said that the "possibility of communal violence (towards the Philippines' ethnic Chinese population) rises with every act of bullying" by Beijing. He stressed, however, that the South China Sea "is not yet a gut issue".