Gov't probes 'destab' angle in foiled NAIA car bomb plot

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Authorities are determining whether the suspects in the foiled car bomb plot at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) belong to a bigger group that may be out to cause destabilization in the country, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Tuesday, September 2.

De Lima also said in a news briefing with NBI officials that the DOJ is  mulling the filing of terrorism charges against the suspects who face illegal possession of explosives raps.

De Lima said the 3 suspects – Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro, and Sonny Yohanon – will be charged with illegal possession of explosives, and may face charges of "conspiracy to commit terrorism," subject to further validation.

Aside from the NAIA plot, the group had reportedly planned to strafe the Chinese Embassy and the building of real estate developer DMCI, both in Makati; and to plant Improvised Incendiary Devices (IIDs) at the SM Mall of Asia. 

De Lima said said Guerrero is the "self proclaimed" leader of the "USAFFE" – a name borrowed from the acronym of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East during World War 2. 

She said it is a "misguided group" that claims to be "defenders of the Filipino people and considers China and 'oligarch taipans engaged in monopolistic business practices and illegal mining' as their enemies.” The NBI is determining the size of the group and their other possible agenda.

"Do they have other agenda? Is it just about the dispute with China, going against so-called oligarchs and taipans, or is there a bigger agenda or any other agenda that would probably result to destabilization?" the DOJ chief said.

She said the recovered IIDs from the Toyota Revo at the NAIA3 parking lot were found to be capable of causing injuries, and even death, to those within a 5 to 10-meter radius. 

De Lima also said that Guerrero admitted to be a member of the Guardians – a group comprised of military, police, and civilian members – but added that it's not yet known whether other Guardian members are part of the group.

'Not terrorists'

Armed Forces Chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said on Tuesday he is not convinced that the apprehended individuals belong to a terrorist group.

Addressing the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), Catapang said that the suspects are "close friends of [Ely] Pamatong" who are trying to "catch attention." 

"It's not a terrorist attack. Pamatong has been notorious for doing this," Catapang said, and recalled past public stunts pulled Pamatong, who has been described as a perennial nuisance candidate.  

Pamatong was responsible for the scattering of metal spikes on major roads in Metro Manila, Baguio, Davao, Cagayan, Bicol and Laguna in 2004, in protest of the government's refusal to issue his supporters permits to rally. 

In the briefing, De Lima said the NBI's Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division (AOTCD), which was also involved in the capture of retired Major General Jovito Palparan, learned from its informant that the plan was originally set on August 25, National Heroes' Day, but was pushed back to a later day.

NBI Chief Virgilio Mendez, who met with President Benigno Aquino III with other NBI officials on Monday, said that the President's instructions is to determine the "actual purpose of the plan of action" of the group and whether they are supported by others.

"We believe there are other entities in line with this, but we still cannot say how serious they are," Mendez said.

Public vigilance

De Lima brushed aside the allegations made by lawyer Oliver Lozano that the destabilization angle is meant to justify Aquino's term extension.

"With due respect to Atty Lozano, he has has a fertile and wild imagination," she said.

De Lima also released to the media the group's "Manifesto ng Kilusan Laban sa Pananakot (Manifesto of the Movement Against Initimidation)" originally dated August 28, when it was supposed to be circulated to the media.  A list of email addresses, including that of media organizations, were also found, apparently for the circulation of the manifesto.

De Lima said that anyone can espouse an advocacy and have an opinion on national issues, "but if you do it the wrong way, it is still wrong."

"If you create chaos, sow panic in the community, who will benefit here?" she said.

De Lima appealed to the public for "calmness, sobriety" and for "vigilance" while authorities determine the "extent of their capacity to create chaos, confusion, destablization etc.

Meanwhile, Malacañang gave assurances there is "no serious danger stemming from the incident."

Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma on Tuesday also said the group has been on the radar of intelligence group, which led to the folling of the attack, and said the government will be in "a constant state of vigilance, alertness and readiness." – with reports from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com