NBI seeks out bullet victims
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - November 5, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is seeking out victims of the laglag-bala (bullet planting) scam, urging them to file their complaints as part of government efforts to put down the extortion scheme victimizing mostly overseas Filipino workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Manuel Antonio Eduarte, head of the seven-man NBI task force designated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to look into the scam, said part of the probe is to encourage all victims to file their complaints and collate all evidence.

Eduarte said the victims may either give their sworn statements before the NBI or to the consulates or embassies of the Philippines if they are abroad.

He said Task Force Talaba (tanim/laglag bala) is coordinating its efforts with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

Eduarte added the task force also coordinated with the OFW advocacy group of Susan Ople.

According to Eduarte, the task force has focused their initial probe at the NAIA.

“When we went there last Wednesday, they (NAIA officials) facilitated our request for other documents, they received the request. They (made a) commitment to furnish us with whatever document we would ask for… There is close coordination with agencies in the airport,” Eduarte said.

Security personnel at the NAIA, shamed and demonized by the public over the scam, had requested the NBI to investigate the allegations.

At the same time, Eduarte denied reports that the NBI has confirmed the existence of a syndicate behind the laglag bala scheme.

“As far as I and my office are concerned, we have not made any pronouncement (confirming the existence of a syndicate). We are still just in the initial stages of our investigation, how can we come out with such a pronouncement?” he said.

For her part, Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center that serves as a catch basin for complaints of OFWs, said they have recently been receiving “expressions of fear” from migrant workers.

Ople said most of the OFWs say that they are already at the airport.

“They inform me if they are going to the airport so just in case they would have any problems we could help them,” she said.

The OWWA, for its part, assigned personnel at NAIA to provide assistance and protection for migrant Filipino workers.

OWWA chief Rebecca Calzado said their personnel at the airport are ready to provide needed assistance for arriving and departing OFWs.

“With the coming of the holiday season, it would spread worry among those who will be coming home for vacation,” Calzado said.

A number of OFWs have been apprehended when bullets were allegedly found in their baggage. Calzado said the workers insisted that they were victims of extortion.

“It is truly sad that some of our OFWs have been accused of possessing these illegal items.  I am confident that the assigned authority will deal with this concern soon so as to relieve the tensions in our airports,” she said.

Calzado urged all OFWs to be extra vigilant and never let their baggage out of their sight.

She further advised OFWs to take all the necessary precautions to safeguard their belongings.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz earlier ordered OWWA, particularly those assigned at the airport, to assist OFWs coming in and going out of the country.

Calzado said OWWA is also ready to provide temporary shelter to OFWs and facilitate communication with their relatives in case any untoward incident happens. 

Many sectors, including government agencies, have offered to help the victims of the scam.

The DOJ has tasked the NBI to probe the allegations of laglag bala extortion schemes at the NAIA.

The scheme involves inserting a bullet in the luggage of an unsuspecting passenger before a shakedown.

The bullet planting incidents were said to be part of an extortion scheme of some airport personnel that has victimized several Filipino migrant workers and tourists at an alarming frequency.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) has implemented stringent measures to prevent airport personnel from getting involved in the scam.

Signs have been put up reminding passengers to inspect their luggage and belongings before going to the airport.

Jesus Gordon Descanzo, MIAA assistant general manager for security, gave assurance that members of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) would not attempt to plant a bullet in a passenger’s luggage.

“With too much exposure from media and from social media, they would not do that but they would still do their work,” he said.

MIAA spokesman David de Castro said there were even threats against airport personnel suspected of being behind the scam.

De Castro said they received phone calls threatening to “put down an official of the airport” if the bullet planting scheme will not stop.

“We are currently tracing the calls received and MIAA does not take such threats lightly. We are receiving several threats in the past… there is nothing new,” he said.

‘Offensive’

Airport authorities downplayed the bullet planting incidents, saying these were isolated cases.

However, the increasing reports of a number of passengers getting caught with bullets in their luggage sparked speculations of a syndicate behind the extortion scheme at the airport.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the reports were “blown out of proportion” and the number of people getting caught with bullets in their luggage was less than 0.004 percent of the total number of passengers passing through NAIA.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, however, took exception to Abaya’s statements.

He said it was offensive for Abaya to treat the laglag bala issue as a statistic when people want to see results.

“We are talking about people here and not statistics. It is very offensive to compare the number of victims to the population,” Cayetano said.

“I think it’s nothing different from his (Abaya) statement that traffic is not fatal. So he owes us an apology. He owes the people an apology,” he added.

Cayetano on Tuesday led several groups in filing criminal and administrative charges against Abaya and airport officials led by MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado for failing to stop the shakedown scheme at the NAIA.

Cayetano said Abaya as well as Malacañang were missing the point that there are Filipinos falling prey to the scam and this has a chilling effect around the world.

Instead of being defensive, Cayetano said the officials concerned should just take immediate action and correct the issue.

The OFW group Migrante sought the resignation of Abaya and Honrado for refusing to take responsibility for the scam.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also hit Malacañang for downplaying the incidents and defending the officials concerned.

“Precisely. How can you possibly defend somebody who has allowed this kind of victimization of our OFWs to carry on in the face of public scrutiny, in the face of exposure, in scandal, in the face of clear violations of trust and the law, pinagtatanggol pa rin?” Marcos said.

Marcos said President Aquino should fire Honrado for failing to address the issue that has now caught the attention of the United Nations and the international community. 

“He should be fired immediately, he’s clearly incompetent. He should never have been put in that job in the first place,” he said.

Marcos said the root cause of the scam could be traced to the penchant of Malacañang to appoint people not based on merit and good qualifications but solely on their connections with people in power.

Malacañang, on the other hand, fired back at Marcos, saying he should not be criticizing government when he could not even acknowledge martial law abuses.

“Unlike Marcos who continues to deny the abuses of martial law, corruption and impunity and human rights violations that occurred during the Marcos regime… the President recognizes that there is a problem,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“The administration is addressing the issue and taking concrete steps so that the travelers will have peace of mind and no passenger will be subjected to unfair prosecution,” he said. –Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Marvin Sy, Mayen Jaymalin, Rudy Santos, Robertzon Ramirez, Danny Dangcalan

ABAYA ABAYA AND HONRADO ACIRC AIRPORT ATILDE CALZADO CAYETANO EDUARTE MALACA OFWS SCAM
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