DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 October) – Fourteen years after agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation spirited out of a hospital an American national who was injured in an explosion inside his hotel room here on May 16, 2002, President Rodrigo Duterte, then City Mayor, is still awaiting an apology and a copy of the report that he said the US Embassy in Manila promised him.
“An affront to Philippine sovereignty,” was how Duterte described to the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) on May 30, 2002 what the “arrogant” FBI agents did in getting Michael Terence Meiring out of the hospital three days after the explosion, ”without the knowledge of any police, military or government official in the city or region.”
The US Embassy’s Public Affairs section quickly issued a denial the next day that the FBI had any role in the “disappearance” of Meiring, who claimed to be a “treasure hunter” but was the subject of an investigation on his possible link to terrorist groups.
The explosion in his room happened within the week some offices in the city government had to suspend work due to bomb threats.
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.
He warned he would arrest FBI agents if they return and operate here without giving “fundamental courtesy” to local authorities.
“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,” the mayor said.
“Sovereignty does not come cheap”
Duterte stressed in his speech that he was not only addressing the RPOC but the national leadership and the US ambassador to the Philippines then, 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 in May 2002.
At the airport press conference in the early hours of October 22, just after delivering his speech upon arrival from China, Duterte, responding to a query on Meiring, said “Binastos tayo ng Amerika. Meiring was carrying out explosives in and out of Davao City for several years.”
He said Meiring was coming in and out of the city “for five years” but barred cleaners from entering his room.
Meiring, according to the post-blast affidavits of three employees of Evergreen hotel, was a frequent guest over the last 10 years, his latest check-in after nearly a year of absence, on December 14, 2001, carrying two heavy metal boxes. (see “The Meiring Mystery”)
The employees said 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. Meiring also instructed them to use only a “clean rag without any chemical materials.”
Duterte said a Citation jet of the US Embassy landed in Davao City with a Filipino Colonel whose name he forgot, and some Americans who got Meiring out of the hospital allegedly to bring him to the Makati Medical Center.
The US Embassy press statement on May 31, 2002 said “FBI explosives experts traveled to Davao “accompanied by PNP (Philippine National Police) 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.”
“Batman and Robin mystery”
“But what they really did was to fly out Meiring.. to Singapore and shanghaied him to the United States. To this day, parang Batman and Robin mystery ‘yan. No explanation,” said Duterte.
He recalled that a few days after the 2002 blast, Ricciardone spoke with him in the presence of their respective aides, “and they promised to conduct a full-scale investigation and committed to me that they will serve me a copy.”
“Sa awa ng Diyos, hanggang ngayon, wala pa akong natanggap maski note man lang sana,” he said.
Charges of reckless imprudence and illegal possession of explosives were filed against Meiring. But Duterte, a prosecutor for a decade before he joined politics, wanted him charged for arson, too. Warrants of arrest were issued but Meiring had left the country by then.
Duterte recalled that during the campaign, a man who introduced himself as a member of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), met with him at around 4 a.m. to tell him, “Mayor, pwede ba nating kalimutan na lang ‘to? Can we let this pass, this thing pass?”
“Sabi ko, ‘forget it.’ Sabi ko, wala man rin akong magawa, I’ve been waiting for that report but until now, I haven’t (received any) so I really did not know what was the mystery about,” Duterte recalled.
“Ngayon, itong Amerika, if they violate their sovereignty, they will raise hell. They will go to war. Kung tayo ginagawa nila sa atin, there wasn’t even an apology for anything,” he said.
“Kaya ako galit kay Meiring because binastos nila ako” (That’s why I am mad at Meiring because they showed no respect).
Duterte narrated that even the city police chief then, Supt. Conrado Laza, now mayor of Hagonoy in Davao del Sur, and Isidro Lapeña, who he said was the regional director then, did not know Meiring was taken out of the hospital.
“Is that respect?”
“Is that respect?” Duterte asked “Tapos sabihin ninyo (Then you tell me) America lives by the values of what? Whose value is it? Your value? Our values? Because … if there is one thing that the Americans have failed miserably, it is in the province of the human dignity.”
Lapena was not the regional director then but Chief Supt. Eduardo Matillano who ordered Laza “to conduct in-depth investigation and coordinate with the judicial authorities regarding the Evergreen Hotel explosion.”
Matillano said Laza’s investigation should include the possible link of Meiring to terrorist groups and to “bring him before the bar of justice.”
In a June 2003 interview, MindaNews asked Duterte on Meiring’s whereabouts. He replied: “I don’t know. I suspect he must be connected with somebody because he was just shanghaied from a hospital here and brought to the United States despite the fact that .. at worse, even if it was an accident… he could be charged with possession of explosives which carries with it a heavy penalty.”
Asked why Meiring was not brought back to face his cases, Duterte said: “I don’t know. Talk to the Justice Department because I do not deal with foreign countries. We are not allowed to do that. We could only connect with them through the Foreign Affairs department.”
“Officially” informed in 2005
In a February 2005 interview, Ricciardone told MindaNews that they were “officially” informed about the criminal charges filed against Meiring only in January 2005, and only when they asked the Department of Justice.
“Is it the fault of the United States that the US Embassy had to ask (and) was given (copy of) the charges against this man two and a half years after it happened?”
Ricciardone also said Meiring left on a “medical evacuation” as he was “bleeding to death.”
“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,” he said.
He said the charges filed against Meiring “were never (officially) communicated to us. Never. Never.”
“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,” Ricciardone said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)