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Editorial

Bullet binge

/ 12:45 AM October 31, 2015

Even BBC has taken notice, no, not only of the “AlDub” phenomenon, which it wrote about earlier this week, but also of something more insidious: The racket at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport involving some security personnel apparently planting bullets in passengers’ luggage to extort money from them in exchange for evading prosecution.

“The reports have caused outrage, with locals criticizing airport authorities,” reported the British media institution. “Some of the passengers detained were released after the bullets were found to be blanks, while others were taken to court for refusing to pay fines.”

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That’s a succinct summary of the scam that, inexplicably—despite having been exposed on television a few weeks ago, with a couple of staff members of the now-notorious Office of Transportation Security (OTS) announced as sacked or placed under investigation—seems to be going on without letup. This week alone saw two more passengers—overseas Filipino worker Gloria Ortinez and Japanese tourist Kazunobu Sakamoto—detained and booked for allegedly carrying bullets in their luggage.

Ortinez’s case is illustrative of the implausible, near-farcical nature of the charge. The 56-year-old OFW who was travelling to Hong Kong for work was arrested because a scan and subsequent search of her bag allegedly yielded a bullet wrapped in a red cloth. She had to spend two days in anguished detention before she was released.

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Why would an ordinary OFW who has travelled in and out of the country many times for work be carrying a bullet with her? Just one bullet, mind, and not even with a gun to render it in any way useful. Ortinez has staunchly denied the charge, saying she was familiar with Hong Kong’s strict security laws and would never jeopardize her work there by carrying contraband.

Ortinez joins a growing number of travellers who, if the Naia personnel’s charges are to be believed, appear to be part of some cult devoted to spiriting bullets through airports and across national borders. American missionary Lane Michael White got arrested on Sept. 17 on account of a .22 cal. bullet said to have been found in his bag. White claimed that two OTS personnel demanded P30,000 from him to drop the case; he refused and was clapped in jail. He stayed behind bars for six days and was released only after paying bail of P40,000.

On Sept. 29, American Gemma Kauffman was also detained because another .22 cal. bullet was allegedly discovered in her suitcase. Take note: same type of bullet, same set of circumstances. Who knows, it might even be the same bullet used against White.

The manufacturers of the ammunition should give the Naia personnel behind this scam some form of recognition for loyalty to the product, because the same type of bullets—in fact two—also found their way to the luggage of Filipino-American Rhed Austria de Guzman. The wheelchair-bound De Guzman was subjected to essentially the same modus operandi—prevented from flying home to California after two .22 cal. bullets were allegedly discovered in her suitcase.

Two airport personnel were relieved following the uproar caused by De Guzman’s complaint, which she posted on social media. But if the public thought that stink was enough to deter the criminals at OTS from carrying on with their scam as if nothing had happened, it thought wrong. The ease and shamelessness of pulling off the apparently lucrative practice should not be underestimated because, far from dwindling down in the heat of the public gaze, it has escalated of late. Rehearsal perhaps for the expected massive influx of OFWs during the yearend holidays?

Why isn’t Malacañang firing and replacing en masse the OTS staff and officers? That is not a reckless or unfair demand, but the viable solution at this point to this outrage at the country’s international gateway. Remember how a Quezon City police chief and 40 of his men were sacked last June over a “hulidap” case? The same radical remedy needs to be implemented at Naia, to stop the “laglag-bala” scam that has victimized hapless OFWs and other travellers.

And why isn’t Manila International Airport Authority general manager José Angel Honrado resigning his post, not only for the airport’s abysmal condition but also for this criminal practice that has gone on under his nose? The .22-cal. questions: Why has this racket flourished for so long? Who has benefited from it?

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TAGS: bullet planting, Gemma Kauffman, Gloria Ortinez, Jose Angel Honrado, Kazunobu Sakamoto, laglag bala, Lane Michael White, Manila International Airport Authority, ninoy Aquino international airport, Office of Transportation Security, Rhed Austria de Guzman
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