Deflation is the divine policy for Philippines

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MANILA (agencies) - Members of an obscure cult created huge traffic jams in Manila yesterday by deflating the tyres of buses, cars and other vehicles during the evening rush hour.

Freddie Atole, a bus driver and a typical victim, said he was flagged down on the South Expressway. A group of men darted forward, let down his tyres and fled. Handbills distributed by the 'Reserved Manpower of the Good Wisdom for All Nations,' said the attacks were ordered by God, speaking through the cult's leader, a part-time radio commentator called Alelio Bernaldez Pen.

Police apprehended 32 group members in running street battles amid the stranded vehicles. Honora Dimagila, 44, one of those arrested, said Mr Pen had commanded his followers to deflate tyres for 'our salvation'.

'We have no bad intentions,' she said. 'This is God's order to let out air. Air is from God. This is the solution to the crisis in our country.' The handbills promised a new era of equality and social justice, including a daily wage of 750 pesos (pounds 20) for everyone. Annual income in the Philippines is about pounds 500 a head.

Police said the cult members had clashed with them in June after the cult leader called on the military and police to overthrow the government. Then, police shot and killed one demonstrator. The new incidents began in the midst of the evening rush hour along major traffic arteries, including that to Manila's Santa Mesa district, near the presidential palace. On the South Expressway, terrified motorists abandoned their cars and fled as police armed with rifles chased the demonstrators.

Officials said the cult members hired jeeps, drove to strategic points at a pre-arranged time and began deflating the tyres of vehicles standing in traffic jams.