PDI photo: Going through any one of Manila’s three airports can now be scary because of a syndicate whose members are planting bullets in luggages of victims who are then detained and charged by the police with a criminal offense.
An increasing number of travelers – Filipinos and foreigners — now fear to use Manila’s three airports mainly because members of a criminal syndicate are preying with impunity on innocent victims regardless of age and nationality.
Their malpractice is sending a chilling fear to travelers in general as any one can be targeted anytime. This malpractice also damages the Philippine industry in particular and the country’s economy in general.
> What is the modus operandi of syndicate members?
First, they surreptiously “plant” bullets on the side pocket or any part of a victims’ handcarried or checked-in luggage. Second, syndicate members – who belong to the Office for Transport Security (OTS), a government unit under the Department of Transportation and Communication – then confront “handpicked” victims, telling them X-ray scans of their luggages there was a bullet or several bullets inside one of their luggages.
Transporting deadly weapons and ammunitions – even a single bullet – is a criminal offense in the Philippines which carries a maximum penalty of 6 years plus monetary fines. Because it is a serious criminal offense, anyone caught even with a single bullet is detained immediately and can’t get provisional release until a bail of up to 100,000 Philippine pesos or more is posted.
> Why is this criminal activity very damaging to hapless victims?
1] Because it prevents victims from traveling out of Manila as they are immediately detained by the police and face a criminal charge. Being prevented to travel can mean loss of a job for an overseas Filipino or missing a business meeting or a holiday trip.
2] Because it results in victims having a criminal record in the Philippines – even if they’re innocent of the crime ascribed to them. Having a criminal record can prevent victims from gaining entry for tourism or work-related purposes to different countries.
> Why is this criminal activity damaging the Philippines as a whole?
1] Because it will scare off foreign tourists, scores of whom might fear being selected at random by this syndicate. Whether a foreign traveler is on holiday or business, he or she can be frightened by the prospect of possibly falling prey to extortion syndicate members at any one of Manila’s airports.
2] Because it again creates a bad reputation for Manila’s airports, potentially scaring off both tourists and foreign investors. If the point of entry to the Philippines is unsafe, then it won’t illogical to assume that other parts of the country are equally unsafe.
3} It further highlights a highly-disturbing aspect of criminality in the country and the seeming inability of law enforcement agencies to properly enforce laws, arrest culprits and ensure peace and order for everyone — both Filipinos and visiting tourists and businessmen.
> What do syndicate members get by planting a bullet or bullets into the side pocket or some other part of victims’ luggages?
1] A chance to harass and strike fear in the mind of victims that they will miss their flight and face a criminal charge in Manila.
2] A chance for them to extort money from their victims in exchange for syndicate members not calling in the police to their discovery of a bullet or bullets inside victims’ luggages.
> The following recent series of apprehensions of travelers found with bullets inside their luggages indicate the presence of a criminal syndicate within the OTS, the government agency tasked with the security screening of travelers’ luggages:
1] October 29, 2015 – Revelina Combis, 68, was stopped at NAIA Terminal 3 in Manila from boarding a flight for Boracay after a bullet for a .45 caliber pistol was found inside her bag. She was arrested by the police for illegal possession of a bullet and she was charged by OTS personnel before the Pasay city court for violation of Republic Act 10591 or the “Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.”
2] Oct. 26 – Gloria Ortinez, a 56-year-old Ilocana domestic helper in Hong Kong was arrested at the Manila airport and detained for two days at a police jail in Pasay city after a bullet was found insider her luggage. She failed to leave Manila to get back to her employers in Hong Kong where she has been working for nearly 30 years.
3] Oct. 14 – A 19-year-old female was student stopped at a Manila airport from flying to Busan, South Korea to compete with her school mates in a choral singing competition after a bullet was found inside her shoulder bag. Darwin Vargas, the choir conductor, has condemned those responsible for planting the bullet in her ward’s shoulder bag, saying culprits no longer discriminate on who their victims are.
4] September – Rhed Austria de Guzman, a wheelchair-bound elderly Filipino-American woman, posted in her Facebook page that she paid 500 Philippine pesos just to leave one of Manila’s airports after she was told that a bullet was found inside her luggage.
5] September 17 – Lane Michael White, 20, an American missionary, was prevented from flying with his family to Coron, Palawan after a .22 caliber bullet was found inside his bag at a Manila airport. He said some airport personnel asked him to pay 30,000 pesos so he could go free. He refused, claiming innocence and spent six days in jail until his family paid a bail of 40,000 pesos.
> How should this problem of travelers being victimized by a Bullet Planting Syndicate at Manila airports be best resolved?
SERIOUS PROBLEMS REQUIRE IMMEDIATE, TOUGH AND EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS BY NO LESS THAN PRESIDENT AQUINO — EVEN IF HE’S LEAVING OFFICE BY JUNE NEXT YEAR.Installing CCTV cameras at X-ray baggage screening points, where planting of bullets are presumed being committed, is a non-solution. THIS PLAN OF ACTION IS ALMOST INUTILE AS IT FAILS TO ADDRESS THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM — THE OFFICE OF TRANSPORTATION SECURITY (OTS) ISN’T WORTHY OF TRUST AND CONFIDENCE ANYMORE AS MORE AND MORE TESTIMONIES ARE EMERGING THAT THIS PROBLEM HAS BEEN QUIETLY GOING ON FOR YEARS.
> It is high time for President Aquino to get tough on incompetents and undesirable elements in the government and should seriously consider the following proposed measures:
1] Implement a partial revamp of the government and replace Transportation and Communication Secretary Emilio Abaya and Manila Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado. Why continue keeping these two officials when their respective offices are plagued by a litany of alleged anomalies and malpractices? The OTS is under Abaya’s department and if he can’t stamp out the recurring problem, why not replace him with someone more competent? And columns of Julius Bondoc about questionable awards of multi-billion peso contracts to maintain the now dilapidated and unsafe train systems in Metro Manila should be more than enough to sack him. Honrado should equally be made accountable for the series of anomalous transactions and mismanagement of Manila’s airports.
2] Shut down the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) and transfer all its staff to other units of the Department of Transportation and Communication where scores of its members are no longer in any position to extort money from travelers.
3] Create a new unit to replace OTS and recruit fresh graduates who are young, idealistic and untainted by bad habits and malpractices of old-time crooked OTS staff. Young and idealistic professionals out to make their mark in new-found professions are unlikely to get corrupted easily, unlike old timers already used to extorting money from innocent civilians.
4] Culprits proven responsible for planting bullets in bags of travelers should be sacked and banned from ever working for the government again. Those suspected of involvement should immediately be suspended, pending completion of investigation.
5] Culprits proven responsible for planting bullets in bags of travelers should be charged with a criminal offense of violating the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act. Since they are in possession of bullets that are being planted, they should be immediately detained and charged for this criminal activity.
6] Remove grounds for extortion of departing travelers by issuing on-the-spot documents to them which provide for the following: a) Suspended or delayed legal action until they get back to the Philippines from their overseas trip. This scheme allows departing Filipino travelers to proceed with their overseas trips while obliging them to respond to a charge upon their return. Foreigners should be given the benefit of the doubt if its just one or several bullets are found inside their luggages as common sense dictates that they will hardly benefit by bringing out a few bullets outside the Philippines.
PRESIDENT AQUINO SHOULD TAKE IMMEDIATE DECISIVE ACTION ON THIS MOST EMBARASSING AND DISTURBING PROBLEM — AND THE TIME IS NOW, NOT LATER.