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Japanese, OFW arrested at NAIA for bullets in bag

Kazunobu Sakamoto, 33, of Tokyo, was on his way back to Japan when he was detained by members of the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSEGROUP) after personnel of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) claimed an X-ray of his luggage showed images of bullets for a 9mm pistol. Philstar.com/File

MANILA, Philippines - A Japanese tourist and a Hong Kong-bound domestic helper reportedly became the latest victims of members of the “laglag-bala” extortion scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Sunday.

Kazunobu Sakamoto, 33, of Tokyo, was on his way back to Japan when he was detained by members of the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSEGROUP) after personnel of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) claimed an X-ray of his luggage showed images of bullets for a 9mm pistol.

Sakamoto’s baggage was subjected to manual inspection by OTS personnel, who allegedly found two bullets in the right side pocket of his luggage. The bullets were reportedly concealed under a long-sleeved shirt.

Sakamoto was charged with illegal possession of ammunition before the Pasay prosecutor’s office on Monday. He posted P80,000 bail.

Also on Sunday, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) was prevented from leaving for Hong Kong after a bullet for a carbine rifle was allegedly found in her hand-carried bag.

Gloria Ortinez, 56, who planed in from Laoag, Ilocos Norte, was also arrested after OTS personnel claimed she had a bullet in her bag.

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Ortinez said she has been an OFW for over 20 years and had never seen a bullet for a carbine rifle.

 “God knows I am a victim of ‘tanim-bala’ modus in the airport by these unscrupulous OTS personnel who only wanted to earn easy money,” Ortinez said.

PNP-AVSEGROUP director Pablo Francisco Balagtas said the bullet was wrapped in a red cloth and commonly used as an amulet or good-luck charm.

Ortinez was detained after failing to pay P80,000 bail on charges of illegal possession of ammunition filed before the Pasay prosecutor’s office.

Overseas workers alarmed

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East regional coordinator, said OFWs fear they may become victims of the syndicate when they return home for a vacation.

He said airport officials should take appropriate measures to stop the extortion racket, noting that OFWs would start arriving in the Philippines next month to spend the holidays here.

“This is quite alarming. Airport authorities must step up its policing function at all airports,” Monterona said as he stressed the need to ensure the security of travelers.

OFW advocate and senatorial candidate Susan Ople called on President Aquino to order a thorough investigation of the incidents.

She urged the Department of Justice to withdraw the case against Ortinez.

‘Heads should roll’

Meanwhile, lawmakers want airport officials’ heads to roll.

Reps. Carol Jayne Lopez of the Youth Against Corruption and Poverty party-list and Roy Señeres of the OFW Family party-list, condemned the incident, saying Ortinez was apparently a victim of an extortion racket at the NAIA.

Lopez urged NAIA authorities as well as the officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to handle Ortinez’s case with  swiftness and sensitivity to protect her family, who depend on her to survive.

There are at least four known victims, including one lawmaker, Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva, of the extortion racket.

Señeres reiterated his call for the dismissal of MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado over what he described as gross and habitual blunders and incompetence.

He said the MIAA insisted on collecting terminal fees from OFWs, who are exempted under the law.

This came after a failed attempt to exact money from OFWs through payment of customs duties and taxes for the balikbayan boxes and imported items brought in by them. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero

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