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Bullets and black marks

opinion / Columnists
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Bullets and black marks

“Laglag bala” (planting bullets) might yet make it to the world’s lexicon—will it soon figure in the OED entries next year?—establishing yet another black mark for the country’s already embarrassing international reputation.

For those not in the know, “laglag bala” refers to the practice of dropping bullets (live or otherwise) in the luggage of departing airline passengers. Once “detected,” the bullets are then used as evidence against the passenger who is charged with terrorism or, at the very least, attempting to transport a contraband item. The real aim of the practice, though, as many complaining passengers assert, is to extort money from those apprehended, with the luggage X-ray operators, security personnel and even police approaching them in whisper that for a certain amount, the alleged bullet smuggler will be set free.

A few outspoken passengers—Filipinos and foreigners—have raised a fuss, but we’ll never know just how many travelers have been victimized, with many choosing to just keep quiet after giving in to the extortionists. Reports have it that “laglag bala” has been going on at the Naia, and perhaps other airports, for years.

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And to make things worse, the scam takes place not just in airports but also in homes and most commonly in cars. Police have been caught “planting” not just bullets but also drugs (sachets of shabu are a favorite), guns and even, as alleged by a former Iglesia ni Cristo minister, a grenade. Indeed, the minister, who charges that he was kidnapped by police on orders of higher-ups in the church, says that the grenade was tossed into the vehicle he was in, to kill him. But when the grenade didn’t go off, he was charged instead with illegal possession of an explosive.

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And the police and authorities wonder why Filipinos show little respect for the law and law enforcers?

The case of the Filipino woman-caregiver, 56-year-old Gloria Ortinez, is particularly galling. Flying into the Naia from Laoag on her way back to Hong Kong where she has been employed for more than a decade, Ortinez was stopped at the X-ray queue after a technician said a bullet had been found in her hand-carried luggage.

Loudly protesting that she had no reason to bring a bullet back to Hong Kong, Ortinez was told to open her bag and lo and behold, a bullet was found in a pocket of the bag and duly photographed. Airport authorities then called police to arrest her, causing her not just to miss her flight but even to risk her continued employment.

Interviewed on radio, Ortinez said the airport officials told her that if she had only “kept quiet” and paid the amount they were asking for, they would not have called the police and would have let her proceed to Hong Kong.

Again, one wonders how many travelers have the criminals at the Naia preyed on? Foreign tourists, who may not be so articulate in English or who are rushing to board their flights seem to be vulnerable, as are our overseas workers, particularly the women who the syndicate apparently believes would keep quiet and meekly hand over the amount demanded.

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A blog maintained by a group of overseas workers has released some tips to travelers like them regarding “laglag bala.”

First, the passenger should refuse to open the bag herself and insist that the screener unzip the bag. Under no circumstances is the traveler to hold the bullet or other evidence herself, to prevent one’s fingerprints from being transferred.

Also, the traveler should look for a witness, either a companion, another traveler or another employee, to testify on the proceedings, starting with the moment the bullet is allegedly found. And by all means, raise a fuss!

An official with aviation security, interviewed about previous cases, staunchly stood by the men and women handling the security procedures. But recent incidents show that not only are perpetrators getting more and more brazen, they seem to presume they can count on those higher up in the command chain to protect them. Who is really profiting from “laglag  bala”? Well I can tell you it’s certainly not the country or our reputation!

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The advent of social media is both boon and bane, making communication instantaneous and widespread, linking friends, family, colleagues and even long-lost childhood acquaintances in a circle of connection.

But social media, shorn of all controls and gate-keeping, spontaneous and at times anonymous, have also been used for nefarious ends—ruining reputations with unsubstantiated accusations.

Such is what is happening to the real estate firm Property Company of Friends (Pro-Friends), which was recently bolstered with a timely investment from GT Capital Holdings Inc., the property arm of business leader George Ty.

Perhaps it was this development that spurred certain parties to launch a seemingly well-funded and well-orchestrated attack against Pro-Friends, using such social media platforms as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Outside of social media, certain “disruptive activities” have also been launched in the offices of Pro-Friends, prompting the company to file charges in court, with warrants of arrest already issued against those named in the petitions. At the same time, sales and marketing people who trained under the auspices of the company have been pirated by rivals, although the company says it has nothing to fear because it is confident its business formula and the quality of its projects speak for themselves.

With Pro-Friends’ prompt response to these challenges, will the “ghostly” social media campaign fade away soon?

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TAGS: airports, bullet planting, extortion, Gloria Ortinez, GT Capital Holdings, laglag bala, Pro-Friends, Property Company of Friends
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