June 22, 2004  (STAR) By Cecille Suerte Felipe  -  In what he calls a "less violent" form of protest, disqualified presidential candidate Elly Pamatong made his supporters scatter hundreds of steel spikes along major thoroughfares in Metro Manila and other areas in the country yesterday.

"It’s a choice between bullets or any other violent way to express my disappointment with the government," Pamatong said.

At least 800 spikes or caltrops — fashioned from four-inch nails and concealed in paper wrappings — were found all over Metro Manila yesterday after they blew out the tires of at least 167 vehicles, said Ligaya Damaso of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

At the same time, police disarmed yesterday an eight-kilogram explosive device in Makati City’s Forbes Park, a day after two bombs were found at government buildings amid fears of election-related unrest.

Officials initially thought the "spike attack" was a prelude to another coup attempt.

Pamatong, in a radio interview, said he believed scattering metal spikes on major roads in Metro Manila, Baguio, Davao, Cagayan, Bicol and Laguna was for the "good of the country."

He clarified that the attack was not meant to kill or hurt anyone, but simply to call the attention of government officials to stop being corrupt.

Pamatong told The STAR that he had spikes spread on the streets to protest the government’s refusal to issue rally permits to his supporters.

"We can no longer hold rallies because the government refused to issue permits. When we hold a rally, anti-riot policemen disperse us using murky water," he said.

Pamatong apologized to vehicle owners whose tires were punctured by the metal spikes, and asked them to demand remuneration from the "crooks in government."

"I know some people could have met an accident and could have died in the process, but I hope you’ll understand that before I did this I wrote to" Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Narciso Abaya and Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., "asking them to... be the protector of the people but they are protecting the crooks and comedians... the aliens controlling the government," he said.

In Metro Manila alone, spikes were scattered along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, EDSA, C-5 Road, Balintawak-Monumento Circle, E. Rodriguez Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Aurora Boulevard, Katipunan Road, East Avenue, Shaw Boulevard, and A. Bonifacio Avenue.

Spikes were also found in Ortigas Avenue in Greenhills, San Juan, Del Pan in Binondo, the stretch of Taft Avenue in front of Manila City Hall, P. Burgos Street leading to Roxas Boulevard, T. M. Kalaw Street, and along the Northern and Southern Luzon expressways.

In Manila, witnesses said four men riding in tandem on motorcycles were seen strewing metal spikes on the road, but police failed to apprehend them.

MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando said the first reported spike attack was along Aurora Boulevard, but other incidents were reported only minutes afterward. MMDA and PNP personnel rushed to the scenes of the incidents and removed the spikes.

MMDA Undersecretary Cesar Lacuna said it was a blessing that none of the affected motorists were seriously injured.

"They were probably moving at a slow speed. Had they been moving fast and ran over one of the spikes, it could have caused their tire to burst and they could have lost control of the wheel," he said.

Western Police District director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong, whose car nearly fell victim to a metal spike, immediately ordered the WPD’s mobile patrol crew and 11 police station commanders under him to remain vigilant in monitoring the moves of groups posing a threat to peace and order.

The last "spike attack" happened last Sept. 25, when unidentified suspects reportedly threw six-sided spikes along the Shaw Boulevard underpass in Mandaluyong City, damaging the tires of 38 vehicles.

Observers said the incident may have served to embarrass the Arroyo administration days before US President George Bush was to visit Manila on Oct. 18.

Pamatong also denounced the Supreme Court for not immediately acting on his petition to reverse the Commission on Elections’ ruling disqualifying him from running in the presidential election.

"The election is over but the Supreme Court has yet to decide on my appeal," he said.

Pamatong believes the Philippines should be under the control of the United States government. He said he has practiced law in the Philippines and in the US for more than 20 years. He earlier filed and lost a lawsuit against the US government to obtain American citizenship for all Filipinos born during the American occupation of the country.

Director Avelino Razon, Philippine National Police (PNP) operations chief, said Pamatong, while he has the right to air his grievances against the government, "has no right to put the lives of innocent civilians in danger."

Razon said people who met an accident as a result of the metal spikes can file their complaints with the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina Jr. said Pamatong can be charged with damage to property, physical injury and malicious mischief.

He said the investigation into the incident will continue because Pamatong may still change his story.

Destabilization efforts

Prior to Pamatong’s admission yesterday afternoon, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the incident was part of "destabilization efforts... by troublemakers" following last month’s tightly contested presidential elections that returned incumbent Mrs. Arroyo to office, according to a final count announced Sunday.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Ricardo de Leon said early yesterday that police had no suspects yet, but that there was a general impression that the incident was politically motivated and that the perpetrators wanted to create anarchy.

The spikes appeared a day after authorities safely detonated two explosives found in two government buildings in Quezon City and a week after four people were wounded in a spate of grenade-throwing and strafing incidents in Quezon City, Pasig and Makati.

The combined forces of the MMDA and the PNP recovered 800 spikes. Police recorded at least 167 incidents of flat tires caused by the spikes.

Another bomb

Makati police chief Jovito Gutierrez told reporters at the scene that the police bomb disposal unit was called in when church staff found the bomb inside a trash can at Santuario de San Antonio in the Forbes Park district, the Philippines’ richest neighborhood.

The eight-kilogram explosive — which contained ammonium nitrate, sulfur, C-4, a detonating cord and an electric blasting cap — was rigged to an alarm clock that was used as an apparent timing device.

Gutierrez said the bomb, which had a 50-meter blast radius, was similar in composition to the bombs planted outside the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) building and inside the Camp Aguinaldo compound that houses the AFP headquarters and the Department of National Defense (DND).

The bomb was discovered at about 2:30 p.m. by parish security guard Timoteo Maala, who said his security chief at the El Tigre Security Agency received a call from the NCRPO informing him that there was bomb threat at the parish.

The explosive device was found outside the chapel, inside a garbage can leaning against the wall of the front entrance.

"With the quantity of the explosives a portion of the church could have been destroyed," Gutierrez said.

The discovery and disarming of the explosive device caused a 30-minute delay of a wedding scheduled at the church. Police said they do not know what time the bomb was supposed to explode.

The bomb was the third to be found in Metro Manila since Sunday amid political tension surrounding the disputed May 10 presidential election.

Forbes Park, across the street from Makati’s financial district, is a gated residential enclave where foreign diplomats and the country’s wealthiest businessmen reside.

A day earlier, bomb disposal experts disarmed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found near the DILG and DND buildings.

"It can safely be surmised that the planting of the two IEDs were deliberate acts to cause damage to lives and properties or generate (a) certain level of public apprehension," Assistant Defense Secretary Ricardo Blancaflor said in a written statement.

"We are not dismissing the possibility that the incidents could be part of the destabilization plots over which our police and military forces have been in anticipation of," he added.

Blancaflor said both bombs were only meant to generate a powerful explosion. He explained that they were not designed as anti-personnel devices since they contain no shrapnel.

"The two bombs were not meant to kill and maim. In the event of an actual explosion, however, (they) can cause damage to lives and property or generate a certain level of public apprehension in the wake of the almost simultaneous discovery of metal spikes strewn along conspicuous points of (major roads)," he said.

Military sources told The STAR that the bombs were meant to humiliate the military and the police, whose officials earlier announced they had the country’s peace and order situation under control.

The sources said that only anti-government forces within the military or their "Sunday guests" could have planted the bomb near the DND building.

Deeper probe

PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. has ordered a deeper investigation into the planting of the two bombs last Sunday.

"It is really surprising ... First, there could be some groups angry at policemen because they do not even want these (policemen) to get a good rest. Secondly, and most probable, they have their own agenda. I hope it is not coordinated. If it is so, we have a problem," he said.

Another police official said there could be some groups trying to sow fear among the general public by planting the bombs, while the tire spikes on major roads could be an attempt to enrage the public.

In a press conference at Camp Crame, Ebdane assured the public that the PNP is on top of the situation, but advised Filipinos not to allow themselves to be terrorized by groups trying to "play" with the country’s peace and order situation.

He also ordered all police districts in Metro Manila to be vigilant against the perpetrators.

"The best thing to do is to go after them and find out who they are, punish them. If you can punish them on the street the better," Ebdane said.

Meanwhile, police officials in Zamboanga City said they have intensified the monitoring of the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc. (PGBI) following reports of alleged plans to stage protests during the proclamation of President Arroyo.

The PGBI has been linked to Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who was reportedly involved in last year’s military mutiny.

Western Mindanao police regional director Chief Superintendent Servando Hizon said "there has been unconfirmed intelligence reports that some members of the PGBI are massing its members to join the destabilization plot."

He said that security measures have been put in place to avert any illegal rallies or protests that will be conducted by opposition supporters.

This is the second time the police have uncovered plans by supporters of Fernando Poe Jr., the presidential bet of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), to destabilize the government.

Hizon earlier noted that unconfirmed reports said Poe’s supporters were gathered from Tawi-Tawi to join the street protests in Manila to disrupt the canvassing, which ended Sunday night, at the Batasan Pambansa complex but this plot had been discovered and preempted.

He added, however, that it is not yet clear how the PGBI will mobilize its members to join in the destabilization plot.

Ebdane said he has ordered the 115,000-strong PNP to remain on red alert in the wake of reports that Poe’s supporters will conduct mass actions to protest Mrs. Arroyo’s victory.

"We will continue with the deployment of Civil Disturbance Management (units) but of course, the situation in Batasan has improved a lot," he said, adding that policemen still have to look over other "areas of concern" such as the EDSA Shrine and Makati City’s business district.

Ebdane also advised Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, who is the KNP’s campaign manager, to ensure that their planned mass action on Thursday and Friday will not be marred with violence.

"He is a lawyer and I think he knows what is within the bounds of the law and what is illegal," he said.

Ebdane’s call for policemen to remain vigilant was issued a day after Abaya ordered troops all over the country to stay on red alert.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero reiterated that the threat against the government is real but not "imminent," and that some quarters are being manipulated by groups with vested interests.

Meanwhile, officials of the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Mrs. Arroyo should expect a short-lived celebration of her victory at the polls because she "will soon have to face mounting protests from the people."

Bayan will be holding a march-protest to Mendiola on Wednesday to protest deteriorating living conditions brought about by recent price increases and assail the Arroyo administration’s "absence of legitimacy." The protests will continue up to Mrs. Arroyo’s inauguration on June 30.

Bayan spokesman Renato Reyes Jr. also called on "progressive and honest" lawmakers to join their mass actions.

"If they feel that they are being suppressed in Congress, then they are very much welcome in the parliament of the streets. In this venue, you can further expose the fraudulent elections without fear of being overruled or outvoted," he said.

Reyes also clarified that his group’s action is not in support of any candidate from the opposition.

"There are just grounds to protest electoral fraud without having to take the side of any politician," he said. — with Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan, Roel Pareńo, Nestor Etolle, Jerry Botial, Jaime Laude, AFP, AP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved