Fringe Philippine politician arrested over anti-China bomb plot

A Philippine police bomb disposal unit member inspects abondoned luggage at the departure area of the airport's terminal three in Manila on Sept 1, 2014, hours after a utility vehicle containing an "improvised explosive device" was found at the car p
A Philippine police bomb disposal unit member inspects abondoned luggage at the departure area of the airport's terminal three in Manila on Sept 1, 2014, hours after a utility vehicle containing an "improvised explosive device" was found at the car park. Mr Elly Velez Pamatong, a fringe Philippine politician with a reputation for bizarre protests, was arrested on Wednesday, Sept 3, over his suspected involvement in a foiled anti-Chinese bomb plot, the authorities said. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - A fringe Philippine politician with a reputation for bizarre protests was arrested on Wednesday over his suspected involvement in a foiled anti-Chinese bomb plot, the authorities said.

Mr Elly Velez Pamatong, who was declared a nuisance candidate and disqualified from running for president in 2004, was arrested after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said investigators were looking into the possibility he was behind the failed bombings.

"I can confirm the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) is looking into the possible involvement of Pamatong," Ms de Lima told reporters.

She said that Mr Pamatong himself admitted he knew the three men arrested on Monday after the NBI found a van with improvised explosives at Manila's main international airport. The three were reportedly planning a series of attacks against the Chinese embassy and businesses owned by ethnic Chinese tycoons.

Shortly after Ms de Lima's statements, NBI director Virgilio Mendez said that Mr Pamatong had been arrested at the Manila airport upon arrival from the southern Philippines.

He was arrested based on a warrant issued in 2013 over a 2004 incident where Mr Pamatong's followers scattered spikes on Manila's main thoroughfare, puncturing the tyres of passing vehicles to protest his disqualification as a presidential candidate.

Asked if they would use the arrest to question him about the bomb plot, Mr Mendez said it was part of their "investigative intelligence technique".

Mr Pamatong has previously headed a group seeking United States statehood for the Philippines and in 2008 filed a suit against Pope Benedict XVI accusing him of human rights violations.

He has also taken part in anti-Chinese protests in the past.

Ms de Lima warned "we may laugh at these details but whether these are comic characters or pranksters, we should not belittle them".

"What if they succeeded and caused harm or death? The fact that they contemplated such activities is more than enough to put us on guard," she added.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Herminio Coloma said the government had assured China that it would make all efforts to safeguard their nationals despite the new threat.

"Our Department of Foreign Affairs sent an official 'note verbale' to China through their embassy here to assure them of the security of their facilities and people," he said.