The Philippine government is still denying it postponed two major regional summit meetings due to fear of a terrorist attack, even as reports emerge that a car bomb plot had been uncovered days before the summits were to open. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, Manila is sticking to its insistence that an approaching typhoon was the reason for the postponement.
The Philippine military spokesman, Lt. Col. Bartolome Baccarro, dismissed reports Wednesday that the discovery of a car bomb plot, and not Typhoon Utor, led to postponement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia summits.
"I think that report has no basis…such news is unfounded," he said.
Baccarro said the armed forces had not received any "validated" threat of plans for a terrorist attack during the summits. But he conceded that some groups might have been planning to disrupt the events.
"There is that big possibility that some threat groups might take advantage of the ASEAN summit by creating these kinds of activities," he noted.
The meetings were to bring together the heads of the 10 member-nations of ASEAN, along with their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India and East Timor.
Days before the summits were to open Monday, the United States, Australia and Britain warned that militants were planning attacks against the high-profile gathering.
Security officials were worried about plots by the Philippine Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf - which has been responsible for a series of bombings and kidnappings in recent years.
Abu Sayyaf is believed to be training with militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror group linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network. Jemaah Islamiyah has carried out several deadly bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines.
News reports Wednesday spoke of a plot by the two groups to explode a car bomb during the summits - possibly in Cebu, the site of the gathering. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said security was partly to blame for the postponement.
Manila, however, blamed Typhoon Utor, which lashed the central Philippines Saturday and Sunday, but left Cebu unscathed.
Japanese Trade Minister Akira Amari on Tuesday called the postponement "extremely puzzling," given that the typhoon would have passed the central Philippines by the time the summits would have started. Amari said the Philippines' reputation has been damaged by the incident.
In a statement Wednesday, Presidential Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said Manila respected the views of other regional officials. But he reiterated that the decision to postpone the event was due solely to the typhoon.
The summits are now tentatively scheduled for some time in January. With several more weeks to prepare, military spokesman Baccarro says security forces are taking the opportunity to plug any loopholes in their security arrangements.