Foiled bombings in Philippines meant to be 'opening salvo' of anti-China attacks

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima (right) and National Bureau of Investigation director Virgilio Mendez (left) display seized improvised firebombs and firearms in Manila on Sept 2, 2014 after three men, who were detained the day before at the airport w
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima (right) and National Bureau of Investigation director Virgilio Mendez (left) display seized improvised firebombs and firearms in Manila on Sept 2, 2014 after three men, who were detained the day before at the airport with an explosive-laden van, had planned a series of consecutive attacks, apparently to publicise their anti-China grievances. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -A foiled plot to bomb the main airport in the Philippines and a huge mall in Metro Manila was to have been the "opening salvo" of a group supposedly opposed to China's occupation of disputed isles in the South China Sea.

Ely Pamatong, a former presidential candidate, is alleged to be the mastermind behind the foiled bombing of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia). On Tuesday night, Pamatong claimed "in a way, I am responsible because I encouraged" the anti-Chinese attack.

Three Filipinos, now in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), were charged on Tuesday with illegal possession of explosives, a non-bailable crime.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters "the plan aborted... is like their opening salvo or their initial operation". She said the NBI was studying the possibility of filing charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism against the group.

The three men were arrested on Monday allegedly before they were to carry out their plan to bomb Naia Terminal 3 and SM Mall of Asia as well as strafe the Chinese Embassy and the headquarters of property developer D.M. Consunji Inc., both in Makati City.

Officials identified the trio as Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon. An earlier report given to the Inquirer said four people were allegedly part of the plot.

Huge fireball

Seized from the group were four sets of improvised incendiary devices, which the justice secretary described as triangle-shaped fireworks fused into a bottle containing gasoline. The bottle was connected to a fuse that could burn for up to eight seconds.

The materials were found inside a Toyota Revo which the group supposedly used in going to Naia.

"The evaluation of the NBI counterterrorism division is that once initiated, the device could create a loud explosion accompanied by a huge fireball (that could) burn property near the blast," De Lima said.

She said the blast could hurl explosive materials "in all directions at an estimated five to 10 metre radius. Such fragments would result in injuries and loss of lives to anybody within the radius."

Also seized from the group was a document titled "Manifesto ng Kilusan Laban sa Mananakop (A Manifest against Conquerors)". The four-page, computer-printed document was heavily edited by hand. It was originally dated Aug 28 but the date was changed to Sept 1.

The manifesto, written in Filipino, opened with a greeting identifying the group members as composed of former New People's Army and Moro National Liberation Front members and indicating they were against China's encroachment of Philippine sovereignty.

It said the planned bombings were intended to "awaken Filipinos, President Aquino, the military leadership and the international community" to China's actions.

"If the Aquino (administration) won't help us in this fight, then the military leadership should stand up to overthrow the current government and replace it, just like in Thailand!"

First attack

The manifesto also called for an end to mining nationwide, claiming that the companies behind the mining ventures were dummies set up by China.

The group called for a boycott of Chinese products and for the government to demolish Chinese structures on reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

It warned the attacks were just the first the group would launch.

'Usaffe' members

De Lima said the group called itself the "Usaffe", not to be confused with the US Army in World War II called the "United States Armed Forces in the Far East."

"The Usaffe is considered an ultra-rightist group which claims to be the 'defenders of the Filipino people' and considers China and the 'oligarch taipans'. who are engaged in monopolistic business practices and illegal mining, as their enemies," De Lima said.

Guerrero, 43, who claimed he was "a general" of the group, apparently worked as a security manager for a textile company in Bulacan province. The two other suspects worked as security guards.

De Lima said the NBI's Anti-Organised and Transnational Crime Division (AOTCD) first got wind of the group's activity this July.

Destabilisation plot

The AOTCD head, Rommel Vallejo, said an informant, who claimed to have been recruited by the group, approached the NBI and volunteered information.

Apparently, the group was planning to light up an improvised incendiary device at the airport and three others at toilets inside the Mall of Asia.

The group was set to carry out bombings originally on Aug 25 in time for National Heroes' Day, but it did not push through.

"The information that they would push through with the plan (on Sept 1) came to us on Aug 31, around 9 pm. That was D-Day, said our informant, so the NBI quickly organised an operation and followed them up to the airport parking lot," De Lima said.

Oliver Lozano, counsel of the three suspects, said his clients were set up. He named a certain Norberto Paranga as part of a destabilisation plot to which his clients were drawn.

"They didn't know about those things in the car," Lozano told reporters. "Apparently that night, Norberto drove the car after he borrowed it from Guerrero. San Pedro and Yohanon stayed behind to guard the car upon Guerrero's instructions. When Norberto texted Guerrero to pick up the car (at the airport), they arrested him in Magallanes."

Security of Chinese nationals

The lawyer claimed that Norberto fled after the incident and he believed Norberto was acting at the behest of someone higher than him.

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila asked the government to carry out a "thorough investigation" of the plot.

"We hope and believe the Philippine side will take effective measures to ensure the security of the Chinese Embassy and staff, as well as all Chinese nationals residing in the Philippines," the embassy said in a statement issued by spokesman Li Lingxiao.

Li reminded the Philippine government that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, "the host country is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of diplomatic missions against any intrusion or damage, and prevent any attack on diplomatic staff".