MANILA, Philippines - Four military reservists wanted to tell the Aquino administration that it should toughen up in the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea but they chose the wrong way to send the message to Malacañang-by setting off bombs at Naia Terminal 3, a nearby mall and the main office of a real estate developer in Makati City.
They set out on Sunday night to send the message to the government, driving to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 3 to plant the first bomb.
They got only as far as the terminal's car park.
After parking their utility vehicle there at 1:45 a.m., they were arrested by National Bureau of Investigation agents, who had been tailing them since they moved out at 9 p.m.
A source who requested anonymity told the Inquirer that the authorities, led by NBI Anti-Organized Crime Division chief Rommel Vallejo and senior agent Eric Isidoro, found six "improvised explosive devices" (including banned firecrackers such as Goodbye Philippines wrapped in round bottles with gasoline) in the vehicle, a Toyota Revo with Plate No. WMK 129.
The source identified the leader of the group as Grandeur Guerrero, but did not name the three others.
The source said all four were reserve military officers, but did not disclose which branch of the military.
Documents urging the government to take a tougher stand in the territorial dispute with China and criticizing the administration for allowing Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to conduct back-channel talks with the Chinese on the dispute were also found in the vehicle, the source said.
A .38-cal. revolver was also found on one of the four men, the source said.
"They claimed they wanted to call the attention of the government to its soft stance on [the territorial dispute with China], like the [standoff] at Ayungin Shoal," the source said.
According to the source, Guerrero and his companions claimed they had planned to set the bombs off at Naia Terminal 3, Mall of Asia and the main office of DMCI in Makati City. DMCI, a leading real estate company, was earlier subjected to an investigation for allegedly employing undocumented Chinese nationals in its Calaca power plant in Batangas.
"Our purpose is only to make a wake-up call to the government about its soft stand against China and not to hurt people," the source quoted Guerrero as saying during his interrogation.
The devices found in the four men's vehicle were not real bombs but large firecrackers "enhanced with gasoline," the source said.
The explosives were not made to kill but could cause fire and injuries to people, the source said.
The devices had long fuses, which would give the four men enough time to get away before the explosion, the source said.
Malacañang had no comment about the arrest of the four men.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said President Aquino had been informed about the arrest of the four men and had ordered the Department of Justice and the NBI to submit a report.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, NBI Director Virgilio Mendez confirmed the arrests at the airport, but said only three men were arrested.
Mendez and Vallejo declined to identify those arrested.
"There will be some follow-up operations to be conducted and there are several instructions we have to comply with first," Mendez said.
He said investigators were still trying to establish the four men's motive.
"We cannot be clear as to whether this is a terrorist activity or a mere destabilization activity," Mendez said.
The Inquirer source said the NBI was expanding the investigation to determine if other people were involved in the failed plan of Guerrero and his companions.
Mendez said he hoped to provide a full account of the NBI operation at the airport in a news conference on Tuesday morning.
The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and the Philippine National Police assured the public that all airports in the country are safe for travelers.
Nothing to worry about
"Airport security personnel continue to stay vigilant in their respective areas," the MIAA said in a statement issued after the arrest of Guerrero and his companions.
Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, spokesman for the PNP, said the public had nothing to worry about, as the authorities would intensify security at all vital installations such as airports, train stations and ports.
"We are hoping this is an isolated case, as the National Bureau of Investigation leads in the probe," Sindac told reporters.
Chief Supt. Christopher Laxa, head of the Aviation Security Group, said security at Naia terminals had been tightened and more officers had started to patrol the airport.
"We have just upgraded our status to heightened alert here at Naia," Laxa said.
He added that the four men were arrested at the Terminal 3 car park, which is near the arrival area.
He said NBI agents carried out the arrest "peacefully" and that nobody was injured or anything damaged.
Laxa said airport operations remained normal, except for the presence of more security personnel.
"We have around 200 security officers manning all the [terminals] plus an additional 80 from the National Capital Region Police Office," he said.
Visual check only
Asked why airport security failed to detect the explosives in the four men's vehicle, Laxa said vehicle inspection at the airport was only "visual" and that security personnel could not search vehicles entering the airport, as the process would cause traffic buildup in the area.
He said, however, that the MIAA was planning stricter security measures and these would be imposed soon.