Manila Airport Bomb Attack NAIA Anti-China USAFFE
Three Filipino men detained over illegal possession of incendiary bombs in Manila. JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

Filipino authorities said they have foiled a bomb attack against Manila airport by an anti-Chinese nationalist group named after a World War II US army command in south East Asia.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said three men were arrested in a van which was full of improvised explosive devices at a parking lot outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the capital.

De Lima said the three planned to set off a bomb there in what was supposed to be the first of a series of attacks in protest to the government's alleged "soft" stance towards Beijing.

Other targets of the group included the Chinese embassy and a major shopping mall in Manila owned by an ethnic Chinese billionaire.

De Lima described the arrested as members of a "misguided group" of utra-rightist "frustrated over the stance of the government against China".

She said they claimed to be defenders of the Filipino people and considered China and wealthy ethnic Chinese businessman as enemies.

"They want this administration to espouse a tougher stance," she said.

Beijing and Manila are embroiled in a bitter dispute over territories in the South China Sea.

The attackers, identified as Grandeur Pepito Guerrero, Emmanuel San Pedro and Sonny Yohanon, were caught by government agents thanks to an informer's tip-off.

According to an investigation by the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) the three claimed to be members of a secretive organisation with links to police and military figures named United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), De Lima said.

USAFFE was a US army formation that operated in the Philippines under the command of General Douglas MacArthur during WWII and included Filipino troops.

De Lima said that detectives were investigating how many people are involved in group and its political agenda.

"We want to know how big this group is, what is their capacity really to create all this havoc, and what is their real agenda," she said. "Are they on their own or are there [people] behind them? We will investigate all these."

Authorities said they were filing charges of illegal possession of explosive materials against the three, who are likely to also face charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism.