Manila: Philippine authorities have arrested a man who admitted to leading a group accused of launching a failed bomb attack on Metro Manila’s airport.

Lawyer Ely Pamatong claimed that his men did not follow his orders to drive away Chinese vessels that took over a reef in the South China Sea, near southwestern Philippines.

Authorities have however dismissed the group for its “comical members”.

Pamatong claimed that he ordered Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, chief of staff of the 13-year-old USA Freedom Fighters of the East (Usaffe) to organise a group, hire a boat and invade several Chinese vessels that have encroached on a reef in the South China Sea, near Palawan, southwestern Philippines.

“I told Jojo (Guerrero) to drive away the Chinese vessels that have occupied areas near the islands claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly Archipelago. The government has done nothing to defend these territories,” said Pamatong.

“I did not order Guerrero and his companions, Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon, to bomb Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA),” Pamatong claimed, adding he gave the same statement after agents of the National Bureau of Investigation arrested him at NAIA’s terminal 2 on late on Wednesday afternoon.

He had arrived from Cagayan de Oro, in the country’s south, aboard a Philippine Airlines plane.

Referring to his group, Pamatong said, “The Armed Forces of the Philippines accredited Usaffe when I organised it as an anticommunist paramilitary organisation.”

“It is a large group composed of unarmed volunteers. I can get arms for them if I want to,” he said, adding, “Usaffe is not getting assistance from the military. It is independent.”

Sources claimed it is composed of retired military men.

US-trained chief of staff Pamatong said that Guerrero grew up in United States where he finished his secondary education and underwent training in security affairs.

When he came back to the Philippines, Guerrero became a member of the powerful Church of Christ, a non-Catholic Christian group, Pamatong said.

Cesar Garcia, director general of the National Security Council (NSC) was dismissive of Pamatong’s group, saying, “It is classified as a dubious organisation led by delusional leaders. It is not strong enough to be a threat to national security, but it could pose a threat to public safety.”

“The leader and followers of Usaffe are comical characters,” admitted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. “But we should not also be complacent because Usaffe might succeed in harming or killing people.”

Chief Supt. Christopher Laxa, head of the Aviation Security Group of the Philippine National Police admitted that Pamatong was arrested not for the failed bombing incident at the airport last Monday but for “another incendiary offence”.

In a counter affidavit submitted to the NBI, the arrested would-be bombers said that a certain Norberto Paranga borrowed Guerrero’s car.

“We did not carry explosives or firecrackers in the car. There was no forensic examination and findings that showed the items that were allegedly found there were explosives and firecrackers,” they added.

De Lima admitted that authorities seized improvised incendiary device soaked in gasoline that could trigger fire and cause injury. “They were not improvised explosive devices,” she said.

The three were charged with illegal possession of explosives and firearms, a non-bailable offence.

A document seized from the group outlined a plan to bomb Pasay City’s NAIA’s terminal 3, Manila’s SM Mall of Asia, Makati City’s office of real estate developer D.M. Consunji Inc., and Makati City’s consular office of the Chinese Embassy, authorities claimed.

Pamatong served as the lawyer of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a Filipino-Muslim rebel group that forged two pro-autonomy peace settlements with the Philippine government in Libya in 1976, and in Malaysia in 1996.

In 2004, he was eliminated by the Commission on Elections as a nuisance presidential candidate.