Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews / 30 May 2003
DAVAO CITY– Exactly a year ago today, May 30, a fuming Mayor Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at the “arrogant” agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for having spirited out of the hospital an American national who nearly lost his life when explosives he owned went off inside his room in a budget hotel on May 16.
“An affront to Philippine sovereignty,” was how Duterte described to the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) what the FBI agents did in getting Michael Terrence Meiring out.
Who was Michael Terence Meiring and why did the FBI get him out? How did he manage to leave the county despite warrants of arrest and hold departure orders? Why hasn’t he been returned to this city to face charges of illegal possession of explosives and reckless imprudence despite promises last year by the police and the National Bureau of Investigation? Why doesn’t the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit want to say exactly what kind of explosives went off in Meiring’s hotel room?
That explosion on May 16 last year in Meiring’s hotel room initially triggered panic among residents who thought bombers elsewhere in Mindanao had, indeed, arrived in the city.
Less than a month earlier, on April 21 in General Santos City, a bomb explosion killed 15 persons and injured 55 others. Several other bomb explosions had occurred in Cotabato, General Santos and even Manila, a number of them claimed by the shadowy Indigenous peoples Federal Army which started making its presence felt in late December 2001, the Christian Lumad Nationalist Army which claimed responsibility for a bomb scare in Cotabato City on March 21, the Abu Muslim and Al Gzahi episodes in GenSan.
For two consecutive days, on May 14 and May 15, bomb threats forced the early adjournment of the regular session of the Davao City legislature and sent employees of around nine government agencies in the Council building scampering for safety.
No bomb was found on both days.
No bomb threat was phoned in on May 16 but a bomb exploded, followed by fire at Room 305 of the Evergreen Hotel. The blast nearly killed the owner of the explosives, a naturalized American citizen named Michael Terence Meiring, a frequent guest over the last 10 years in the hotel and whose latest check-in after nearly a year of absence, was on December 14, 2001.
The badly injured Meiring, his legs mangled by the explosion, had claimed to hotel staff that he was into gold and treasure hunting, and was a resident of 381 Snidee Ridge Trail, Calimino, Los Angeles, California (other documents list the address as 381 Smoke Ridge Trail, Calimesa, California).
The circumstances behind Meiring’s sudden departure from the hospital, inspite of his serious condition, raised questions about his real identity. A number of officials in ‘for background only’ interviews, speculated Meiring may have been an agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Meiring himself, according to those who had spent some time with him, refered to himself as CIA although he would qualify that to mean “Christ In Action.”
According to someone who knew him up close but does not want to be named because “grabe ang connection nya” (Meiring is well-connected), Meiring would often brag of his plans to set up schools and hospitals for the poor in Mindanao.
What Meiring’s actual purpose was in Mindanao for about six to eight months a year in the last decade, no one can say for sure.
But he would have been simply lumped among “treasure hunters” hunting for Yamashita’s treasures and forgotten, if he had not been spirited out of a hospital room here three days after the May 16 explosion “without the knowledge of any police, military or government official in the city or region,” as Duterte described it to the RPOC meeting on May 30.
The US Embassy’s Public Affairs section quickly issued a denial. In a press statement on May 31, just a day after Duterte spoke at the RPOC, it categorically denied that the FBI had any role in Mr. Meiring’s “departure.” The five-paragraph press statement said FBI explosives experts traveled to Davao “accompanied by PNP Foreign Liaison Officer Col. David Umbao” and that prior to visiting the site of the explosion, “the FBI officers were given permission by the PNP officer in charge.
They consulted with the PNP Davao crime scene investigators about what was considered a possible terrorist act involving injury to an American citizen. The FBI officials then returned to Manila the same day.”
It added that while in Davao, “all FBI activities were fully coordinated with the Davao PNP. The FBI officials who visited Davao were accompanied by the appropriate PNP liaison officer. The FBI officials returned to Manila prior to the time Mr. Meiring left the hospital.”
But the mayor, also the RPOC chair, was categorical about the “arrogant” FBI agents who got Meiring out of the hospital. He told the RPOC meeting that initially, when he heard the news of Meiring’s sudden departure for Manila, he thought this was with clearance from the highest levels of government.
He said he was not demanding that he be personally informed about these operations as these could be matters of national security but stressed that FBI agents should have coordinated with appropriate government agencies like the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency; Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano, then the PNP regional chief here and the heads of other law enforcement agencies in the region.
Duterte said that when the FBI agents went to the Davao Doctors Hospital where Meiring was confined, they were initially accosted by security guards but the FBI agents merely flashed their metal badges and proceeded to take Meiring.
“They think and act nonchalant as if they own the place…I don’t give a sh_t who they are. Those metal badges do not have any value to me. If they (FBI agents) do that again, I will have them eat (their badges),” an irked Duterte said.
Police detailed near Meiring’s hospital room were also barred entry by the FBI agents, he said.
He warned he will arrest FBI agents if they return and operate here again without giving “fundamental courtesy” to local authorities here.
“I just would like now to make it clear, to inform .. the US ambassador and some morons there in the national government who are handling these FBI agents that you better not do that again here or I will have you arrested…” Duterte said.
Duterte stressed in his speech that he was not only addressing the RPOC but the national leadership and the US ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone.
“Sovereignty does not come cheap… Please do not forget our national sovereignty. It should be enhanced always by the dignity of the Filipino people,” he said