Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson recently stated that the coolness between Duterte and the U.S. government — well, Duterte’s disdain for the U.S., which he expressed as “hatred” when the subject of American finger-wagging came up — goes back to the Michael Meiring case in 2002.
But that’s just the tip of a big, bloody iceberg.
Meiring, a US citizen, was sharing a hotel room in Duterte’s town of Davao City on the island of Mindanao with his ammonium nitrate bomb, which exploded on May 16, 2002. Meiring was severely injured; nevertheless, US government agents appeared at the hospital and spirited him away, first to Manila and then to the United States. Unsurprisingly, it was widely suspected that Meiring was some sort of U.S. agent engaged in local skulduggery.
On May 13, 2016, the New York Times engaged in a rather feeble exercise in hand-waving the problem aside in a piece titled Mysterious Blast in Philippines Fuels Rodrigo Deterte’s ‘Hatred’ of U.S. It included gems like
But a former C.I.A. official who served in the Philippines discounted the possibility that Mr. Meiring was a C.I.A. operative. While the former official was not familiar with details of the Meiring case, he said keeping explosives in his hotel room and joking about “Christ in Action” would be obvious violations of agency protocol.
And reportage like
The [U.S.] embassy acknowledged that F.B.I. agents went to the Evergreen Hotel to investigate the explosion but “categorically” denied that the agency “had any role in Mr. Meiring’s departure.”
The general drift is Duterte should Let It Go! And refrain from hanging a Yankee-Go-Home narrative on this ancient and murky episode.
Well, there’s more to the story — more criminality and more relevance — than a big bang in a little room 14 years ago.
The story put out was that Meiring was a bugnuts treasure hunter/white supremacist/counterfeiter who wanted to fund the Fifth Reich by digging up Nazi gold stashed in the Philippines.
But a week after the blast, it was already clear something was up with the Meiring case:
Sources said FBI agents supposedly fetched Miering at the hospital on Sunday without informing local officials who are set to file charges of illegal possession of explosives against him.
Miering, who is reportedly now confined at the Makati Medical Center, was brought to Manila aboard a Subic Air Lear jet, RPC 1426, allegedly chartered by the US Embassy. The aircraft arrived at the Davao airport at about 9 a.m. Sunday and left an hour and a half later.
Then, according to the Manila Times:
Among the most startling developments in the Meiring case was Immigration Deputy Commissioner Daniel Queto’s admission last week that no less than agents of the US National Security Council had brought Meiring from Davao to Manila.
Almost immediately after the blast, security tightened around Meiring. Hawthorn [a friend of Meiring’s] told The Times: “I was told by a Filipino in Davao, carrying a message from the US Embassy that Michael would never be charged with a crime in connection with the explosion. The investigation will end up at a stone wall. Michael will be protected and eventually taken back to the safety of the United States. The incident will be shortly forgotten, if you’re willing to forget it.”
Somehow Meiring ended up in the United States. Although he changed his last name to Van de Meer, a reporter at a Houston TV station tracked him down and notified the Philippines. Meiring was never extradited, however, for the stated reason that the Philippines could not produce a photograph of him in custody to confirm his identity. Apparently, Meiring died in the U.S. in 2010.
This US government involvement invites speculation that Meiring was some species of U.S. spook doing mischief in Mindanao, and his bomb was part of some kind of destabilization or false flag operation.
Guess what? That’s what Duterte suspects. As CNN reported in 2011:
The explosion inside the hotel room happened in May 2002, and in March 2003 a bomb ripped thru the waiting shed of the old Davao International Airport which was followed a month later by another explosion in the Sasa wharf that resulted to the death of several people and the wounding of hundreds more.
“When a bomb exploded at the airport followed by another explosion at the wharf several months after the hotel explosion that injured Meiring, that was when I started suspecting that the US could have had a hand in the said explosions. My suspicion was fueled when a military officer declared in public that the CIA have connections with known terror groups here,” Duterte said.
Allegations concerning false flag terror attacks were dramatically highlighted in July 2002 by a twenty-hour mutiny staged by 300 junior officers and troops in downtown Manila. Nick Soudakoff reported:
They accused the Arroyo government and the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] leadership of corruption, including selling guns and ammunition to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist gang, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA).
They warned that the government was plotting to declare martial law in August, and accused the AFP of carrying out the March 4 and April 3 bombings in Davao City, Mindanao, in an effort to frame the MILF as “terrorists” and attract increased US military funding and support. Those attacks killed 37 people and injured hundreds.
These charges are particularly explosive as the rebels were from the AFP’s elite Light Reaction Company, Scout Ranger Regiment and other Army and Philippine Marines units. According to the July 30 Cebu-based Sun.Star, the majority of the mutinous officers have had combat assignments in Mindanao, many being decorated for “gallantry”.
The first political casualty for the government was General Corpus, who resigned on July 30. The mutineers had accused him of masterminding the Davao terrorist bombings.
Indeed, the notoriously tough-on-crime Duterte has become remarkably lenient when it comes to pursuing the alleged perpetrators of the Davao airport and wharf outrages, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. In 2003, Duterte offered to resign if it turned out the MILF was not behind the attack; in 2015 he rather casually dismissed the allegation that the chief MILF peace negotiators had actually been indicted for the bombings under a different name:
Duterte said that members of the rebel group like the MILF usually commit crimes while fighting with the government. He said the government usually gives amnesty to rebels that clear them of the crimes they committed in the past.
So, Duterte is not just nursing an old grudge over a “mysterious” explosion that maimed a US citizen and an evacuation operation that shouldered aside his cops; he suspects the U.S. was involved in a campaign of terror that killed or injured hundreds of people in his city.
And add to that butcher’s bill apparent US cultivation of a nexus of corruption and conspiracy within the Philippine military at the highest level.
Is it plausible that Meiring was involved in some MILF-related shenanigans? Consider this 2003 report in the Mindanao News on what was extracted from Meiring’s hotel room:
The other box contained partially burned documents that would unravel partly the mystery behind the man who called himself Michael Terence Meiring.
Among the documents found in the box was an “officer” identification card of the Moro National Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Armed Forces, bearing Meiring’s name, photograph and September 17, 1935 as date of birth.
And this, from the same piece:
The source said Meiring’s predictions “always came true” such as the peso-dollar rate reaching this and that level. But what the source cannot forget was when Meiring said in January last year that with the Americans coming for Balikatan, sporadic bombings were to be expected and there would be a “big one.” When the source asked Meiring if the General Santos City bombing on April 21 last year was the ‘big one,” Meiring reportedly said no. Fifteen persons were killed and 55 others were injured in that blast.
After Santos City bombing, Meiring got blown up in his hotel room. Then came the blasts at the Davao airport (21 killed, 148 wounded) and Sasa Wharf (17 killed, 56 wounded).
A plausible narrative emerges of the CIA and its buddies in the Philippine military collaborating on a series of false flag atrocities to justify a war against the MILF and build the case for more US military involvement in Mindanao. By this reading, Meiring was in Davao doing his Alden Pyle thing (for those of you who enjoy Graham Greene references) when his bomb went bang. And then the bombs kept coming…
…until the U.S. reversed itself and entered into negotiations with the MILF in 2003 (I’m suspecting this initiative was midwived by Muammar Gaddafi, a long-time MILF backer, as part of his rapprochement with the Bush administration) and began sponsoring a peace process between Manila and southern insurgents.
The US continued to insert CIA and FBI agents into Mindanao and onto Duterte’s turf without notifying him, as well as slotting as many of 6,000 troops into the region as part of a JSOC anti-terrorist operation mainly to target Abu Sayyaf, itself the tainted fruit of US recruitment of Philippine Muslims to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and, until the policy reversal on the MILF, the Philippine military’s preferred covert asset in the struggle with Mindanao separatists.
The U.S. continues to orchestrate anti-terrorist operations on Mindanao with its allies in the Philippine central government security apparatus, sometimes with disastrous results, like the Mamasapano operation that left 44 Philippine Special Action Force personnel dead in January 2015.
Unsurprisingly, Duterte is not a fan of the U.S. presence. He opposes the Balikatan, the joint US-Philippine military exercises, as disruptive to the peace process and communal harmony between Moro Muslims and Christians. In 2013, Duterte revealed he and his daughter (who served as mayor of Davao for a while) refused to allow the U.S. to operate drones out of the old airport at Davao (where the 2003 bombing had taken place).
At that time Davao Today reported:
EBF Mindanao’s Bishop Beny Dapitan IFI said the US government “approached the wrong person” in Duterte, who is known for his nationalist stance against US military intervention.
“He, the Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) and majority of the barangay captains had previously declared Davao City as a No-Balikatan/ No US troops zone,” Dapitan said.
So Meiring is not ancient history. The Meiring case is simply an inflection point in a multi-decade and ongoing US program of misjudgment, misbehavior, and mayhem in Mindananao that continues to the present day.
Unfortunately for the United States, that campaign has gone on for fourteen years right under the disgusted nose of the man who is now poised to become president of the Philippines.
Peter Lee runs the China Matters blog. He writes on the intersection of US policy with Asian and world affairs.