While many Filipinos are doing somersaults because of hot news simultaneously hurtling into our lives—the guilty verdict on US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing a Filipino transgender woman, the disqualification of presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe by the Commission on Elections’ second division, the ongoing climate change conference in Paris, presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte cursing Pope Francis for his Philippine visit, etc.—the scandal of tanim/laglag-bala seems to have been forgotten.
Tanim/laglag-bala was on everyone’s lips just a week or so ago, the cause of departing airline passengers’ flight delays, distress and ire, the embarrassment of airport officials, the subject of puns and jokes, and considered another blot on the government for failure to arrest even petty corruption that are inconveniencing many. Tanim/laglag-bala refers to the alleged planting by airport personnel of a bullet/s in a passenger’s luggage; upon discovery during security inspection, the passenger is detained, interrogated and made to cough up money in order to be allowed to board his/her flight.
Video clips of passengers in tears and even fainting at the airport have been shown, causing us to hyperventilate and wonder how we have come to this. And the victims seem to be ordinary Filipino folk, except for the young American missionary whose case, now in court, is some kind of cause celebre because of its unlikelihood.
The domestic helper who had also been found with a bullet in her belongings was released, and in a dramatic twist, her Hong Kong employer who was at first hesitant to take her back has welcomed her. This left us wondering what it was all about. Did she or didn’t she actually but unknowingly have the bullet in her luggage, and who put it there? Did they or didn’t they—the airport personnel—plant the bullet for extortion purposes? Was there an extortion try?
The National Bureau of Investigation that was called in to make sense of the airport mess generated by cases of tanim/laglag-bala has yet to present its findings.
But cause for puzzlement is the fact that despite stories about tanim/laglag-bala victims who tearfully swear innocence, despite images of passengers lugging their plastic-wrapped suitcases with handwritten signs that these do not have bullets inside, passengers are still caught with bullets in their luggage. The recent ones didn’t cry harassment and extortion, they actually admitted carrying the ammo. Theirs is a case of dala-bala (bullet-carrying).
If there is tanim/laglag-bala, there also is dala-bala by incorrigible (pasaway), superstitious, but not necessarily ignorant Filipinos. (The word pasaway, to describe those who habitually defy rules and norms, is now in frequent usage in Tagalog-speaking places, though it has always been commonly used in the Visayas and Bicol regions.)
I am inclined to think that this tanim/laglag-bala scheme came about when some corrupt airport inspection personnel noticed that some Filipino passengers indeed had bullets in their luggage. Knowing that this is forbidden, they thought they could make some money from the ignorant or superstitious passengers’ violation by confiscating the items and asking for money in exchange for letting them go. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? One could say the chicken that crossed the road and went to the airport with a bullet under its wing.
Making things complicated is this new scheme of rewarding personnel who detect and confiscate firearms, bullets and other ammunition. Wouldn’t this encourage more “planting”? The bigger the harvest, the bigger the reward?
I am not downplaying (as one letter-writer said I was, despite my sounding ballistic in a column piece on the matter some weeks back), the tanim-bala incidents and the extortion attempts. What is cause for additional infuriation is some Filipinos’ superstitious practice of carrying bullets as amulets or anting-anting in their travels despite recent warnings to leave these behind. A doctor had four in her luggage, another passenger had several. And they admitted to carrying the bullets. What is it about us Filipinos?
Indeed, what is it about a biker or tricycle driver who suddenly crosses the path of your car despite a red light shining brightly for him and those on his lane? What is it about bus drivers swerving left and right despite a dedicated lane for them? On any dark night, stand on Quezon Avenue (or any city road) and you will see that seven out of 10 jeepneys do not have their headlights on.
There are moves in the Senate to amend the firearms law in order to protect the innocent passengers from extortionists, to simply confiscate the bullets and allow the passengers caught with them to go on. For the pasaway types, I am tempted to wave them on with their bullets, to let them board their flights so that they get caught in their foreign destinations. But then, what would that say of security checks in the Philippines?
I have yet to see the airport extortionists tarred and feathered. Where are they, who are they? The focus seems to be more on the victims, not the victimizers. If extortion is the motive of bullet-planting, why does the airport drama end only with the passenger weeping or fainting when a bullet is found? Bitin. I’d like to see the drama completed, with a passenger face to face with an extortionist and shouting, “Extortion!”
I am not downplaying the extortion scheme. But how many passengers are true victims, and how many are true pasaway? How many airport personnel are true extortionists, and how many have had to bear the shame of something they did not do?
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