Philippine authorities yesterday thwarted a plot to bomb Manila's international airport and a nearby mall owned by Filipino billionaire Henry Sy, arresting three men who planned the attack to protest against China's expansion in the region.
The suspects will be arraigned today and may be charged with illegal possession of explosives and possible conspiracy to commit terrorism, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said at a briefing in Manila today.
"Whatever their agenda is, it can't be avoided that there's a destabilisation plan" against President Benigno Aquino's government, de Lima said.
"The instruction of the president was to pursue the investigation and determine the organisation's actual purpose. We believe there are other entities involved."
The three men are believed to be part of a group called the USAFFE, which describes itself as "defenders of the Filipino people" and enemy of Chinese business interests in the Philippines, the justice department said in a statement today.
The group was also plotting to strafe Chinese-run establishments including the Chinese Embassy and a building of DMCI Holdings Inc., which has come under investigation by labor authorities for allegedly employing Chinese laborers without work permits.
The USAFFE, which takes its name from the former US Armed Forces in the Far East during World War II, also criticised the government's "soft stance" in the country's sea dispute with China, de Lima said.
The plot comes at a time when Aquino, who is seeking international arbitration of a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, faces growing opposition to his domestic anti-corruption drive and a drop in popularity, said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University.
"More than any patriotic cause behind the plot, it is more likely that this was meant to destabilise the Aquino administration and puncture the veneer of relative security in the country," he said by phone.
Acting on a tip, government agents arrested the suspects in the parking lot of Ninoy Aquino International Airport at Terminal 3 after midnight yesterday, de Lima said.
The group planned to set off one set of improvised explosives inside the airport and three more at the nearby SM Mall of Asia owned by SM Investments Corp., she said. SM is the holding company of Sy, a Filipino-Chinese.
The USAFFE, whose members claim to be former and active members of the military, police, the armed wing of the communist party and Moro National Liberation Front, originally planned to attack on August 25, National Heroes Day, de Lima said.