Shadowy and dangerous
Like a creepy apparition, Ely Pamatong has once again materialized in the news. A lawyer who once counted the Moro National Liberation Front as his client, Pamatong is best known for having attempted to run for president twice (in 2004 and 2010) and for being declared a nuisance candidate by the Commission on Elections in both instances. This time he’s in the news for something far graver than imagining himself fit for the highest office in the land: He is the alleged brains behind a group that calls itself the USA Freedom Fighters of the East or Usaffe, three of whose members are accused of attempting to smuggle a cache of firecrackers and gasoline into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Why the three “commandos” of Usaffe ended up at the airport when their marching orders from Pamatong was supposedly to retake the Spratlys from the Chinese is still a mystery. Pamatong himself denies that he ordered the firebombing of the airport, though he vouches for the integrity and patriotism of his men. One of them, whom he calls his chief of staff at Usaffe, goes by the spectacular name of Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, though the nickname is a bit of a downer. “I told Jojo to take over the Spratlys and drive away China from our territory,” Pamatong said.
Guerrero, along with Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon, are security guards in real life. What mumbo-jumbo by Pamatong turned these presumably gullible but certainly unwarlike troika to try to set off firecrackers at the airport? The act may appear comical and absurd—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has appealed to the media not to describe it as a foiled bomb attempt given that no actual bomb was involved, to lessen any sense of panic and anxiety among the public—but the consequences could have been grave. Pamatong’s statements may be laughable, but his actions are no laughing matter.
This isn’t the first time, after all, that he has proved himself a nuisance in more ways than one. Following his disqualification from the presidential race in 2004, he egged on a number of his supporters to scatter metal spikes on a portion of Edsa, resulting in damage to some 100 vehicles. Not content with that harmful public disturbance, he chained himself to the Comelec offices to protest his disqualification.
Pamatong’s arrest by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation last Wednesday was not even for the foiled airport caper, but for a much-earlier case of inciting to sedition, based on an arrest warrant that was issued on Oct. 24, 2013, but has been unserved all this time. What gives? Why did the authorities move to arrest him only now? Is it because, for all his goofy behavior, his ultra-rightist proclivities have sympathizers among the military and police?
The man said he founded Usaffe 13 years ago to serve as “an anticommunist paramilitary organization” that would help combat the communist New People’s Army in Mindanao. “It was accredited by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2003,” he claimed. More than that, the AFP supposedly offered to fund his group, but “we refused because we did not want anyone to be telling us what to do.”
All these, of course, may just be fanciful talk. How do you take seriously someone who names his organization after the defunct World War II-era American military command in the Philippines (which lost Bataan and Corregidor)? Or who orders clueless security guards to form the vanguard of an independent force that will retake the Spratlys from China, “because the government has done nothing to defend the Spratlys”—while insisting, on the other hand, that his Usaffe is “unarmed”? And yet: “I can arm all of them if I want!”
A democratic society will always have its share of crackpots and dunces. At their best, the antics of such jesters can bring to light the hypocrisy and insanity that govern the daily life of the republic. But when such characters cease to be merely colorful and turn into a danger to public welfare, the game changes.
Pamatong has coasted all this time on the chuckles his hi-jinks have generated from the crowd. But attempting to set fire to the airport is a most serious matter. And so is dipping one’s hand in the tinderbox issue of the Spratlys, especially given the still-shadowy nature of Pamatong’s organization and whoever its underwriters may be.