MANILA - The group behind yesterday's foiled car bomb attack at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was also eyeing other targets including a mall owned by the country's richest man, the Chinese embassy in Manila and a Philippine company employing Chinese workers.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the group, whose three members were arrested while attempting to set off explosives at the parking lot of the NAIA Terminal 3, wanted the Philippines to have a tougher stance against China, particularly over the South China Sea dispute.
She said the group was dissatisfied with how the Philippine government is responding to China's intimidation.
''Ang kanilang isinusulong, from initial investigation, is yung parang hindi sila kontento, frustrated daw sila doon sa nagiging stance ng pamahalaan kontra sa China, na para sa kanila eh masyado daw malambot ang administrasyon,'' de Lima said in a press conference.
''They want this administration to espouse a tougher stance in its dispute with China."
De Lima identified the suspects as Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro, and Sonny Yohanon.
De Lima said Guerrero is a self-proclaimed general of the group, which calls itself as the USAFFE, or the United States Army Forces in the Far East, a US military formation activated during World War II.
Citing documents seized from the suspects, the justice secretary said the group ''claims to be defenders of the Filipino people and considers China and oligarch taipans engaged in monopolistic businesses and illegal mining as their enemies."
The three suspects were arrested after National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents were tipped off about the group's plan to sow chaos in certain parts of the metropolis.
She said apart from the airport, the group planned to attack the SM Mall of Asia - owned by China born Henry Sy, the Chinese Embassy located in Makati and the office of property developer DMCI.
DMCI, owned by ethnic-Chinese Filipino David Consunji, made the headlines recently after its power plant in Batangas was raided for employing Chinese nationals who were allegedly not authorized to work in the Philippines.
De Lima said investigators believe that yesterday's foiled bomb try was supposedly ''just an initial salvo of their operations."
The three suspects will face charges of illegal possession of explosives. Another charge of conspiracy to commit terrorism is being considered against them.
De Lima said an investigation is ongoing to determine the extent of the group's operations. She added that investigators are still verifying whether the group's real targets are the Chinese and their interests here.
''Inaalam din namin kung iyun ba talaga ang tunay na agenda nila, o yan lang ba. Meron pa ba? Is it just really about the dispute with China and the oligarch taipans? Is there a bigger agenda or any other agenda that could probably result in this destabilization?" she said.
The suspects were caught in possession of ''improvised incendiary devices'' which have large firecrackers, gasoline, and timed fuse as components.
The three were arrested at the parking lot of the NAIA 3. They smuggled the explosives into the airport complex using a Toyota Revo.
Citing information provided by the NBI Counter-Terrorism Division, de Lima said the IIDs could ''create loud explosion, accompanied by a huge fireball, enough to deliver with force, fragmented materials with the Toyota Revo and burn combustible materials situated near the blast."
De Lima said the fragments could injure or kill anybody situated within 5 to 10 meters from the blast site.
The justice chief said the way the group chose to air their grievances is wrong.
''Kung gagawin niyo sa maling paraan, mali ho iyon, it would create panic sa community,'' she said, adding the group was supposed to carry out the attack last August 25 when the country was observing National Heroes Day.