HEADLINE – ‘Bullet Planting’ Scandal Rocks PHL Airports as It Girds for APEC Meetings

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SCANDAL AT THE PHL AIRPORT: Bullets planted in bags for money? DOTC Secretary Abaya and MIAA General Manager Angel Honrado are among officials under fire for the alleged scandal that has gained worldwide attention.
 
 
 

 
Charges filed as solons urge officials to resign, overseas Filipinos protest
 
By ALFRED GABOT

PASAY CITY (PHLTODAYUSA/PhilAmPress) — Once labelled as the world’s worst airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City has been in the news the past several weeks due to many bullets found in the travelling bags of Filipinos going abroad or other Philippine airports as well as foreign tourists, including an American missionary, angering officials and overseas Filipinos.
More than 1,000 bullets, mostly live while some made into amulets, have been found in bags over the past several weeks, according to chief public attorney Dr. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta of the Public Attorney’s Office but only about 50 cases have reached the fiscal’s office or the courts, bolstering suspicions of extortion of passengers by some airport personnel. 
Many victims, including a 65-year-old overseas worker for 26 years and the young American missionary, claimed that the bullets were planted and a syndicate at the airport may have been doing the planting for money for years now.
The American missionary, Lane Michael White, 20, of Florida, accused security personnel at the NAIA of placing a bullet in his luggage and using the “planted” contraband to extort P30,000 from him.
Since he refused to pay up,  White a spent six days in jail and was released after posting a P40,000 bail.
Causing him all this trouble was the .22-caliber bullet found in his bag in the morning of Sept. 17, when he and his family were scheduled to take a flight to Coron, Palawan. He ended up being charged with illegal possession of ammunition before Pasay City Judge Pedro Gutierrez.

Earlier, a wheelchair-bound American woman said she had to give P500 to an OTS member just to be cleared for her flight back to California. Like in White’s case, two .22-caliber bullets were found in one of the pockets of her luggage.
Another supposed victim, Santiago Cabrera, 77, an American bound for Los Angeles with a daughter, was held at the airport on Nov. 3 after his handcarried bag reportedly had a bullet.
Another victim was identified as Nimfa Fontamillas, 65, of Cavite who was kept from boarding a plane early morning Sunday after a bullet was allegedly found in her handbag at the NAIA Terminal 1. Fontamillas was with her daughter, Menchu Tan, and were supposed to board a Tiger Airways flight TR2729 for Singapore when the .9-mm bullet was allegedly found in her bag when it went through the NAIA Terminal 1 final x-ray scanner at 5:30 a.m.
Mrs. Fontamillas said: “God knows wala akong kasalanan. Paano kami magdadala ng bala, kung sa aming bahay wala kaming mga baril (How can we bring bullet when we don’t have guns in our house)?”
Menchu said that they were going to Singapore because her 11-year-old son was scheduled to play football in a match in the Singapore ‘Singa Cup.’ “My son and his team left for Singapore via Philippine Airlines, while we booked on Tiger Airways,” she said.
Due to alleged slow action by concerned Philippine officials led by President Benigno S. Aquino III from whose father the premier international airport had been named and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya on growing complaints on the alleged “bullet planting,” overseas workers have launched a social media campaign calling for the resignation of Secretary Abaya, Manila International Airport Authority general manager Angel Honrado, who is reportedly a relative of the President, and security personnel at the airports to resign.
Mr. Aquino had ordered Abaya to investigate and report to him on the results of the investigation. Under fire, Abaya and Honrado, reportedly a relative of Mr. Aquino, consistently have been denying the operation of “bullet planting” or “laglag bala” syndicate at the premier airport even as they appealed for understanding while investigations are under way.  
The scandal has been reported out by global media, particularly those in the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, prompting the United Nations itself to warn its officials and employees against the syndicate at the airport.
The scandal continues to hug the headlines in the Philippines even as the government prepared to host heads of states and government and senior officials led by US President Barack Obama, Russian leader Vladimir Putin attending the 21-nation Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings and leaders’ summit this November.
Others called for the National Bureau of Investigation to do an independent investigation while others proposed that army soldiers replaced the police and security men assigned at the airport.
Following the widespread uproar of Filipinos, especially netizens from all over the world, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, an administration ally, and concerned groups have filed a complaint before the Ombudsman against four officials over the “tanim-bala” scam that has victimized passengers, including overseas Filipino workers.
Earlier, several senators like Sens.Vicente Sotto, Grace Poe, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and congressmen called for an investigation by Congress on the scam and the suspension or resignation of those involved in the scam.
Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao volunteered his own personal lawyers to assist alleged victims of an extortion racket called “tanim-bala” at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Pacquiao, vice chairman of the House Committee on OFW Welfare, said he is strongly convinced that many, if not all, outbound air passengers arrested at the NAIA for allegedly having bullets in their travelling bags are innocent.

Pacquiao said “laglag bala” scam victims who want to avail of free legal services may contact lawyer Jojo Bondoc at telephone no. 09209211162.
Another group, Migrante International, called for a “laglag boto” by calling on the Filipinos not to vote for the candidates of President Aquino and the Liberal Party who they said could be blamed for the scandal. “Laglag boto is our answer to laglag bala at the airports,” one Migrante leader was quoted as saying.

The military migrant group also coined a new monicker for the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, calling it as “the world’s best bullet detector.”
Migrante party-list issued the statement after a Hong Kong-bound Filipina fell victim to the alleged “bullet planting” scheme in NAIA last Oct. 25.
Gloria Ortinez, 56, was arrested and jailed after airport authorities claimed that they found a bullet inside her hand-carry bag at the NAIA Terminal 2.
Earlier, overseas workers called for the same action in the wake of the controversy over the inspection and strict rules on “balikbayan” boxes which was initiated by controversial Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina.
The migrant workers also called for a “Zero Remittance Day” to dramatize their anger and protest.
The workers’ actions resulted to lesser remittances and fewer balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines during the last few months, it was learned.
 
In Davao City, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, reacting to the outcries of citizens to the seemingly growing racket dubbed “tanim-bala,” said that if he were president, he would make the ones responsible for the mess swallow those bullets.
Cayetano’s co-complainants are the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Network of Independent Travel Agents, whose leaders  are also asking for the preventive suspension of the officials who allegedly failed to conduct thorough, proactive, and preventive measures on the bullet planting incidents.
The officials sought to be suspended are led by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, Office for Transportation Security Administrator Roland Recomono and PNP Aviation Security Group Director Pablo Francisco Balagtas.
Honrado, however, refused to resign as he continues to defend the action of the men assigned at the airport which he supervises. He said he will do so only when President Aquino orders him to resign.
 
Pushed to the wall, Malacanang assured on Tuesday that the government is taking concrete steps in addressing the alleged “bullet-planting” scam on passengers at the Manila airports.
President Aquino himself has called for a thorough investigation of the incidents and directed the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to undertake measures to stop the scandal which has become a black mark in the image of the Philippines as a tourist and business destination.
 
“(The) DOTC will show the entire picture. We hope the DOTC will be able to convince our countrymen, our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) that measures are being undertaken and it’s not true that we are not doing anything about it,” spokesman Edwin Lacierda stressed in a Palace press briefing.
Lacierda said the DOTC is addressing alleged ‘bullet-planting’ incidents based on the data submitted by the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Office for Transportation Security (OTS).

Other victims of the bullet mess are Pancho M. Salgado, 65, of Taytay, Rizal; and Chris Valerie Panopio Mendoza, Sampaloc Manila. Salgado allegedly yielded an armalite bullet while entering NAIA-2, while a .45 caliber bullet was confiscated from the luggage bag of Mendoza.
Salgado was bound for Osaka, Japan, while Mendoza was supposed to leave for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when they were held by airport authorities. Both were detained at the PNP Aviation Security Group detention center while awaiting bail.
Last Thursday, Revelina A. Combis, 68, of South Poblacion, Dipaculao, Aurora, was prevented from boarding Philippine Airlines flight PR 2041 bound for Caticlan, Boracay, after members of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) found a .45 caliber bullet allegedly inside her hand carry bag at the NAIA-3.
Combis has been charged before the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office with violation of Section 28 of R.A. 10591, the “Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.”
A Japanese, who was earlier arrested after airport police found two .44 caliber bullets in his luggage bag, has been released after posting a P40,000 bail.
Migrante International is calling a “no remittance day” to protest the ‘tanim-bala’ scam that victimizes the OFWs.
Meanwhile, Ednalyn Purugganan, an OFW in Hong Kong who launched an online petition, expressed alarm at the possible plight of OFWs who would be returning to the country this holiday season.
“Lahat kami ang pinakaasam-asam ang makauwi sa Pilipinas kahit panandalian lang. Makakauwi pa ba kami nang walang takot na baka sa kulungan ang bagsak namin?” Purugganan said in her open letter.
“We would like to show our OFW brothers and sisters that government is resolved to fixing these allegations of ‘tanim-bala’,” the Palace official  said.
The tanim-bala scam involves the planting of bullets in a victim’s bag, which will then be seen via X-ray by an airport security screener. The passenger then has to choose whether to pay a bribe or end up being investigated.
In their complaint, Sen. Cayetano and the VACC cited the Executive Order No. 226 or the ‘Institutionalization of the Doctrine of Command Responsibility in all Government Offices, Particularly at all Levels of Command in the Philippine National Police and all Government Agencies’ which states that “government officials or supervisors of any law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for ‘Neglect of Duty’ under the doctrine of command responsibility if they have knowledge of an offense committed by their subordinates and, despite such knowledge, did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during, or immediately after its commission.”
Cayetano said it took a month before the concerned officials acted to solve the tanim-bala racket.
“It took them one month bago mag-meeting at the level ng DOTC para pag usapan yung laglag bala no? Dito sa atin, ang nangyayari, parang in denial pa. Ibig sabihin ayaw pang tanggapin ng gobyerno na may problema. Kung gusto niyo sa gobyerno, magtrabaho kayo. Kung ayaw niyo magtrabaho, mag-resign kayo, kasi kung hindi, kakasuhan kayo,” he said.
The senator even compared the DOTC’s “delayed” action to the prompt response of the Davao local government when the incident took place in the region.
“Sa Davao City nung nalaman nilang ganito, nagdagdag agad ng pulis, namigay agad ng leaflet. Si Mayor Duterte ang nagsabing, ako in charge dito ako mag-legal aid sa nahulihan ng bala, pakakasuhan natin yan, ipapakain natin ang bala sa naglalaglag bala. So there was someone immediately in charge,” added Cayetano.
Davao City Congressman Karlo Alexei Nograles said there was a need to conduct an inventory of all past arrests due to alleged confiscation of ammunition as well as a review of all cases that were filed in court, including those that were already given judgment by the regional trial courts.
“The discovery of this so-called laglag bala scheme at the NAIA has opened up serious doubts as to the authenticity and legitimacy of all the previous arrests involving alleged seizures of ammunition,” he said.
“We owe it to the victims of this laglag-bala scheme to review their cases, re-open them if necessary, so that we can truly give justice to these people,” Nograles said.
Nograles also called on MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado to resign from his post out of delicadeza.
Abakada Patrylist Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz said that the only way for the Aquino government to be able to get into the bottom of the ‘laglag bala’ issue is to remove Honrado and allow independent probers to investigate this scheme.
TUCP Partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito likewise called on Honrado to voluntarily resign from his post to spare the President from further embarrassment.
He said that there was also a need to review the system of employing contractuals in the Office of Transportation Security (OTS).
 

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