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Wednesday, May 29, 2002

 

Treasure hunter a player  
in a more absorbing tale

By Dorian Zumel-Sicat, Correspondent

First of three parts

Michael T. Meiring had basked in the shadow of inscrutability. By some accounts, he is a treasure hunter, and a physician who dabbled in herbal medicine. There is mention of a wife, a nurse who worked in a hospital in California. He doesn’t smoke, and drinks only occasionally.

It is said he has been in and out of Davao City for the past 10 years, always staying in Suite 306 of the Evergreen Hotel. The talk in Davao is that Meiring hobnobs with influential political personalities in Mindanao, among them Nur Misuari and Hashim Salamat.

An explosion in his Davao hotel suite on May 16 ripped off that mantle of obscurity, exposing Meiring to the public limelight. What has been revealed, however, is a more complex man whose trail leads back to South Africa and a box supposedly containing US Federal Reserve notes.

Since the May 16 blast, there have been attempts by authorities to keep the circumstances surrounding the incident hush-hush.

Meiring lost both his legs in the explosion, which also left a big portion of his body badly burned. What is unusual is that he was reportedly whisked out of Davao on a chartered plane, accompanied by what Immigration officials described as agents of the US National Security Council.

The mystery doesn’t stop there. Meiring’s present whereabouts are unclear. One report said he was taken to the Makati Medical Center in Makati City, where he is still under intensive care. Another version has it that Meiring was flown to San Diego, California after a brief stay at Makati Medical.

Piecing together an accurate story about Meiring will be difficult. But there are indications that he is part of a bigger, more spellbinding tale, one detailing a quest for treasure, intrigue and, possibly, double-cross.

What is definitely known about Meiring is that he was born in 1932 in South Africa and later became a naturalized US citizen. He first came to the Philippines in 1992, where he spent almost a year in Metro Manila, where he stayed at the Sundowner Hotel or the Manila Garden Hotel.

While in Manila he went around with two agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). He was in the Philippines primarily to hunt for treasure and do research in herbal medicine. His wife, Angelita (or Angelina) is a nurse at a 7th Day Adventist hospital in Loma Linda, California.

Meiring had close links with some well-placed government authorities in southern Mindanao as well as with national government officials. Included in this circle are former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Hashim Salamat, and even suspected New People’s Army (NPA) leader Father Navarro.

Meiring’s connections with rebel leaders made the military wary about him. He was under surveillance by more than one intelligence unit on more than one occasion. Still, there was little to add to his dossier.

Meiring is believed to have spent millions of dollars while in the Philippines. Where he got his funds was not known. Medical research grants from South Africa could be one source. “He has told me that the South African government gives him some support,” says Meiring’s private secretary, Sylvia Durante.

According to close friend, American David Hawthorn, Meiring told him he had found a fabulous treasure in US Federal notes.

The way Hawthorn told it, Meiring in 1992 was able to sell a “box” full of US Federal Reserve notes worth more than $500 million.

That box was one of 12 said to be part of a war chest for American and Filipino guerillas fighting Japan forces during World War II. After the war, the boxes disappeared.
--To be continued

   
 
 
 

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Francis Andaya, Judee Perculeza, Marizhen Doctora
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