FROM THE ARCHIVES: The Meiring Mystery (2003 series)

MindaNews first published this series in three parts on May 30, 31 and June 1, 2003. We are republishing this along with one part of a February 2005 interview with then US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, especially focusing on the Meiring case

The Meiring Mystery
1st of three parts: “Affront to Philippine sovereignty”
by Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 May 2003) — 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. (Tomorrow: The “Second Coming”)

The Meiring mystery
2nd of three parts: The “Second Coming”
by Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 May 2003) — Michael Terence Meiring, 67, checked in
at the Evergreen Hotel on December 14, 2001, carrying two heavy metal boxes.

According to affidavits of hotel employees, Zander Bautista, Gerry Kay Magdadaro and Emmanuel Ticson, Meiring would repeatedly tell them that in cleaning his room, they can touch anything but the two padlocked metal boxes which allegedly contained assorted documents.

Magdadaro also recalled that Meiring told him that in cleaning his room he should use only a “clean rag without any chemical materials.”

What the metal boxes contained no one knew, until May 16, 2002, when Meiring nearly lost his life during an explosion inside his hotel room.

In their affidavits, Police Senior Inspector Sabino Vengco and PO3 German Labandero, Explosives Ordnance Disposal team leader and post-blast investigator, respectively, of the Special Anti Terrorist Unit (SATU), said the explosion originated inside one of the metal boxes in Meiring’s room.

The investigators also recovered “used improvised electric blasting cap with burned leg wires, cut-off tiny pieces of leg wires and bits of pieces of metallic fragments as cap shell.”

Initial reports said the explosion was caused by dynamites but on May 23, SPO3 Miguel Vicente, Jr. of the Southern Mindanao police’s EOD team said the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device which was described as “powerful” and “high-tech.”

Vicente was quoted in newspaper reports as saying the device contained ammonium nitrate, electronic apparatus, and other explosive materials which can cause heavy explosion and damage. He theorized that the cover of the other box could have hit the box that contained the explosive and triggered the explosion. “Meiring could have put the explosive inside the box to hurt anyone who was planning to open it,” Vicente said. He added the bomb could have been used by Meiring in his treasure-hunting activities.

Charges of illegal possession of ammunition and reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property were filed against him on May 22 but Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said Meiring should be charged for arson, too, for burning a portion of the hotel. (Note: Duterte was a prosecutor for 11 years before his appointment as OIC Vice Mayor in 1986. He was elected mayor in 1988 and was reelected twice until 1998, served as 1st district Representative from 1998 to 2001 and was again elected mayor in 2001)

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.

The Manila Times in a three-part report on May 29-31 last year said Meiring “had close ties to well-placed government authorities in southern Mindanao, national government officials and Philippine National Police, former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Hashim Salamat and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) leader Father Navarro. Meiring also has close ties with `shady people’ like MNLF Commander Tony Nasa and others in Cotabato who acted as `front men’ for his dealings with the Abu Sayyaf.”

Meiring, according to a source who knew him up close but requested not to be named because “grabe ang connection nyan” (he is well-connected), had visitors from various sectors, rich and poor, congressmen, councilors, a governor, military and once, the source said, Meiring complained he was duped by a police general.

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.

The Mindanao Times report a day after the blast quoted Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as saying the police investigated Meiring the Friday before (May 10), after the intelligence community found him “highly suspicious” for bringing in boxes in and out of the hotel.

Meiring was reported to have allowed local policemen to search his room but refused to let them enter his bathroom as it was supposedly “out of order.”

When Duterte narrated to the Regional Peace and Order Council meeting on May 30 last year about how Meiring was taken out of the hospital by “arrogant” agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said US authorities appeared interested in pursuing Meiring’s case after Philippine police authorities uncovered several dubious US Federal bank notes in his possession when they checked his room and belongings after the blast.

The complaint sheet filed by the chief of the Investigation Section on May 22 last year, listed seven exhibits — record of event, original copy of photos showing the damages in the room, improvised electric blasting cap with burn (sic) leg wires, cut-off tiny pieces of leg wires and bits of pieces of metallic fragments as cap shell, photocopies of three partially burned documents, photocopy of Meiring’s MNLF identification card and chemistry report from the PNP Crime Laboratory.

The documents submitted gave credence to Meiring’s claims as “treasure hunter: a three-page “International non-circumvention, nondisclosure confidentiality and working agreement” on the “sale and investigation of deposits of gold in bar form, and quantities of nikel (sic) babbit” requiring an advance of $1.075 million from the buyers’ group, with Meiring representing the sellers; a February 14, 1998 letter from a Derek S. Fawell of UK, apparently involved in “underwater survey and recovery.” Fawell’s letter started with “further to our discussions relating to the bomb disposal problem, I confirm that we can supply two experts willing to
handle the job” and a two-page 1999 “Firm offer to sell up to 500 metric tons” starting with a “trial of 1,240 kilos” of gold bars in a bank in Butuan City. The offer was from Meiring but the two-page document bore no addressee.

The Manila Times report last year noted that “charred US federal bank notes were found in his exploded hotel room, with a three-week old fax from Derek S. Fawell, of 3 Glenhurst Avenue, Yorkshire, England that read: “With regard to your ordnance disposal problem, I have talked with our experts. They will be at your location upon the time frame that you instruct. The device that you have described is highly volatile and must be dealt with quite delicately.”

The list of exhibits and the case folder in court did not include federal notes whether dubious or real and did not include, too, the supposed three-week old faxed message.

Meiring used in his communications his company name, Parousia International Trading Co. Inc. using the Evergreen hotel phone and fax numbers.

A check with the Mindanao Business Council showed there is no Parousia or Meiring in its directory. The firm, however, is listed under “metals” in, a Davao City-based business portal site.

Mines and Geo-sciences regional chief Ma Luisa Jacinto said Parousia had no permit and no accreditation as mineral trader. Jacinto said that if Meiring had secured a permit and accreditation in the national office, they would have been sent copies.

Parousia is a Greek word that literally means “being present.” In Christian theology, it is another term for “second coming.” (Last part tomorrow: The extradition that never was)

The Meiring mystery
Last of three parts: The extradition that never was
by Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 June 2003) — Police Supt. Conrado Laza was designated city police chief on May 16 last year, the day Michael Terence Meiring nearly lost his life in an explosion inside his hotel room.

“My first order of the day is for you to conduct in-depth investigation and coordinate with the judicial authorities regarding the Evergreen Hotel explosion,” then regional police chief, Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano said during the formal turnover of the city police command to Laza on May 31.

Matillano said Laza’s investigation should include the possible link of Meiring to terrorist groups and to “bring him before the bar of justice.”

Meiring had told police officers while screaming in pain on May 16 that a man had lobbed a grenade inside his room. The evidence pointed to the blast originating from one of his metal boxes.

Matillano called Meiring a liar and said he should answer more questions as to his purpose in staying here in the city for several months a year in the last ten years, aside from claiming to be a mere treasure hunter.

“This Meiring lied because it was found out after the post-blast investigation that the one that exploded in the room was not a grenade but an improvised explosive device,” he said.

“No other action could suffice than to see to it that the Philippine National Police and the city government of Davao will not become a laughing stock of other quarters who intentionally or unintentionally attempt to malign the integrity of the PNP and disturb the tranquility of Davao City,” Matillano said.

In response, Laza said his office was just waiting for the arrest warrants to be issued in connection with the charges of illegal possession of explosives and reckless imprudence resulting to damage of property filed on May 22.

“When we have already the possession of the arrest warrant, we now have the power to coordinate with the Manila police to send Meiring back here to stand litigation of his cases,” Laza said.

Judge Isaac Robillo, who is handling the first case, issued a warrant of arrest on June 13 and fixed the bail bond at P80,000. A hold-departure order was also issued.

Meiring was flown back to the United States last year.

The charge of reckless imprudence was reinvestigated and the City Prosecutor of Davao City through Prosecutor I Shahruddin Roberto Sencio Jr., recommended that the case filed be withdrawn and a new information for destructive arson be filed instead, alleging that it was Meiring’s intention to cause the destruction or partial destruction of Evergreen Hotel because there was “no showing that respondent does not possess the necessary intelligence to realize that bringing an improvised bomb inside an inhabited place such as Evergreen Hotel would not result in the destruction thereof.”

In a supplemental affidavit, Chief Inspector Fortunato Reyes Parantar, chief of the Investigation Division, said that when Meiring brought the bomb to the hotel, “it was already assembled and not separated into components safe for storing in a public place.”

“Being assembled and unsafe for storing only means that his intention was to blow up the hotel where he was staying,” Parantar said.

But on December 18 last year, Judge Wenceslao Ibabao said it is “contrary to human experience that if accused intended to destroy the hotel, he would not do so with himself inside said hotel. He would see to it that on the day of the explosion, he would not be in his room so that he would not be hurt. His act of putting these two metal boxes beside his bed from the time of his arrival until the day of the explosion, when he knew that it
contained explosives, gives doubt as to his intent for bringing said explosive inside the premises of the hotel.”

“This court believes that the earlier case for reckless imprudence resulting to damage to property was the proper case filed by the prosecution,” Ibabao said. He directed the City Prosecutor to “conduct a reinvestigation of this case to determine the proper charge that may be filed against accused Michael Meiring.”

On March 13 this year, Judge Antonio Laolao, Sr. issued a warrant of arrest for Meiring for reckless imprudence, fixing the bail bond at P60,000.

The penalty for destructive arson is reclusion temporal maximum to reclusion perpetua or 17 years 4 months and 1 day to reclusion perpetua; for reckless imprudence, arresto mayor maximum to prision mayor correccional medium or 4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months.

Laza told MindaNews last Monday that they did their part, filed the cases against the “matalinghaga” (mysterious) Meiring and coordinated with authorities in Manila for his arrest.

Asked on the exact composition of the explosive Meiring used, Laza refered MindaNews to the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SATU). Police Sr. Inspector Sabino Vengco III, SATU chief, told MindaNews he could not give a copy of the post-blast report on the Evergreen Hotel explosion last year because he had to confer with the prosecution. He asked MindaNews to call the next day. On Tuesday, he told MindaNews no copy could be given.

The case folder on Meiring’s illegal possession case did not include a detailed post-blast report but a chemical laboratory report from the Regional Crime Laboratory Office indicating that a specimen submitted yielded “positive for nitrates, an explosive ingredient.”

Sarlo Gentapan, Evergreen hotel manager told MindaNews the P2 million damages caused by the blast and Meiring’s P300,000 hotel bills have not been settled. The US Embassy had paid for his hospital bills.

On June 19 last year, the National Bureau of Investigation chief Reynaldo Wycoco, vowed during the weekly Club 888 business forum here that they would bring Meiring back.

Wycoco said he will have to check Meiring’s exact whereabouts with his counterparts from the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation who are in Manila as soon as he returned to Manila that day.

“Whatever is needed to solve the case, we will do that,” Wycoco vowed.

When told by reporters that Judge Robillo had issued a warrant of arrest on June 13, Wycoco said they would get a copy of the warrant from Robillo’s sala and hand it over to their FBI counterpart in Manila.

He said if Meiring was able to leave for the United States, then the warrant was important in starting the process of his extradition since the Philippines and the US have an existing extradition treaty.

That was June 19, 2002. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

Q and A with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone:
The case of Michael Meiring: Is it the fault of the United States?
by Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
3rd of five parts

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/01 March 2005) – –“Is it the fault of the United States?,” US Ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone asked.

His government, he said, was “officially” informed about the criminal charges filed against American national Michael Terence Meiring only in January 2005.

Meiring, who nearly lost his life when a bomb exploded inside his hotel room on May 16, 2002, was “spirited out” of the Davao Doctors’ Hospital three days later, by what Mayor Rodrigo Duterte referred to as “arrogant” agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Q. The mayor’s complaint (in May 2002) was also addressed to you… that Meiring was whisked away by FBI agents..
A. You know what? There’s been too much nonsense reported about this case. Let me tell you what we know about it.(explains how they sent a consular officer to look after Meiring. Ricciardone said Meiring left on a “medical evac.”) ..This was open in the light of day. This was not surreptitious.

There were no criminal charges filed at all, we were in touch with the police and at no time (was it) suggested (that) he was under criminal investigation or that he was under arrest or should be arrested….Had there been any kind of criminal investigation, our role would have been limited to getting him a lawyer..We have no interest, none, in helping Americans evade the law. On the contrary, we warn Americans .. when you’re traveling abroad you are subject to the host country’s laws. We cannot protect you, we will not protect you. And there are are 34 American citizens in Filipino prison now.. from immigration charges to murder…

Q. As the mayor said, he (Meiring) was whisked away by the FBI…
A. No. No. That’s simply false.

Q. That’s what he said..
A. Well, he’s misinformed. I’ve never had a conversation with the mayor on this. I’d be delighted to do so… The facts are out there… We have told the Secretary of Justice we will cooperate. Any charges on this man, please tell us. He was in the country for 12 days…From bombing to departure, he stayed 12 days. He was not whisked out of the country in the dark of night and put on an airplane to the United States.

Q. He was whisked out on the 19th, on the 3rd day of his hospitalization
A. He was bleeding to death. On advice of doctors, he was moved to the hospital.. Where he was going was well known (a Manila hospital). … The hospital here knew where he was going. The police showed no interest in him as far as we knew. At least the police never contacted us, never contacted him, no policeman ever showed up to arrest him. As far as we know, no court pressed charges. When all this stuff came out in the newspapers, we kept asking: are there any charges against this guy?

Q. The charges were filed after the 19th
A. The charges were filed, we found out in January of this year.

Q. They were filed in May (2002), about two or three days after he left.
A. After we’ve asked repeatedly are there charges against this guy… in January 2005, we were finally told, on this date, in this place in Davao… I recall in June, after he had left the country, charges were filed. And these charges were never (officially) communicated to us. Never. Never.
Check. You google this. Check on your newspaper. .. media….There was never even a media report on court charges against this guy.

Q. There was.
A. Not that we saw.

Q. There were charges already filed.
A. You have a date and specific charges?

Q. Reckless imprudence and illegal possession of explosives. (The mayor wanted him for arson, too)
A. Could be.but we never even read about it in the media. Maybe in the local media … And more to the point. No communication on official basis (was sent us). We asked, we went back to the Department of Justice, all this stuff in the media, do you have charges on this guy and they never would even tell us until January 2005.

Q. The warrants of arrest were issued in June 2002. But he was already out when the warrants were issued.
A. He went through the Bureau of Immigration….

Q. In short, he can’t be brought back here?
A. In short, we have a mutual legal assistance treaty. If there are court charges against him as we found out a month ago, in January after repeatedly asking your department of Justice… we were informed of the court charges.

Q. In fact, the (cases) were archived precisely because the warrants were not served
A. Why were they not served?

Q. Because he was gone and nobody knew where he was…
A. But the Bureau of Immigration knew where he was because he was properly stamped out of the country. This is your government. We don’t run this country, my dear. This is not our Bureau of Immigration.

Q. Can’t he be brought back? You said there is a mutual legal
A. Legal assistance treaty. When there are charges against our citizens in each other’s country, there is a proper procedure from your department of justice to our embassy and from our department of justice to your embassy in Washington…. Now whether he will be extradited, I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how the charges work and all that but we’re following
up right now because only three weeks ago, did we, after repeatedly asking, get the statement on the filing of charges against this man. In our system, we cannot use newspaper reports that a mayor is angry and arrest somebody because the mayor is angry in a foreign country and I don’t think that will happen in your country, either…

Q. The US Embassy had to ask the (Philippine) Department of Justice?
A. … I wrote.. Mr. Secretary, give us all the information you got… we’ll do everything we can….. What are the charges? What evidences.. what would you like us to do exactly? If we talk about extradition, then ask us for extradition in the well-known way. You don’t ask extradition through the newspapers (laughs) in relation to states. We are finally dealing officially on this. But we have strenuously sought to do this the right way. Through proper procedure.

Q. After three years?
A. Yeah. But ask yourself. Is it the fault of the United States that US Embassy had to ask (and) was given(copy of) the charges against this man two and a half years after it happened?

Q. Who got him out of Davao?
A. American consular officers…. And you bet we try to get the medical care as soon as we can.. . but we don’t slip them out. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)