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Ship passenger held for bullet possession ordered freed

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Another individual apprehended for alleged possession of bullet was ordered released by the Manila Prosecutor’s Office yesterday.

Luisito Solitario, who was arrested at the Manila seaport after a live bullet was allegedly found in his luggage during x-ray examination when he was about to board a ship, was released pending further investigation.

Manila City Prosecutor Edward Togonon cited the same reason by the Pasay City prosecutors in ordering last Monday the release of 12 people caught with bullets at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

“There is a need to subject the recovered bullet to ballistic examination and/or fingerprint lifting to determine its real source and/or owner. Without that, evidence would be insufficient to indict suspect/respondent,” read the ruling.

The prosecutor cited the similarity of the circumstances with other cases, “thereby fueling speculations about the possible operation of a ‘laglag/tanim bala’ syndicate.”

The other day, charges against 72-year-old Antonina Agustin, who was apprehended at the NAIA, were dismissed for lack of probable cause.

Prosecutors cited the lack of criminal intent in Agustin’s possession of 9mm and .38-caliber bullets in her luggage and accepted her defense that they served as amulets to protect her from sickness wherever she goes.

Most of those caught with bullets in their belongings claimed they were amulets or lucky charms to protect them from harm in their travels.

On Monday, Pasay City prosecutors ordered the release of 12 individuals caught with bullets at the airport for lack of probable cause. Most of them claimed the bullets were amulets.

Under the law, mere possession of a bullet is a criminal offense.

There were allegations of extortion by airport officials and personnel shaking down passengers unaware of a bullet inserted in their belongings.

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.

Porters also affected

The supposed extortion scheme has also affected the livelihood of porters at the NAIA terminals.

“We are now having difficulty convincing passengers to help them by offering our services at P50/bag because they are afraid that we are part of the syndicates operating at the airports,” one porter said in Filipino.

He said they usually reach their quota of 50 bags per porter “and we have a take-home pay of around P500 a day as tip aside from our monthly salary.”

Many porters were seen at the departure areas in the four terminals approaching incoming passengers with their trolleys.

“Passengers never questioned us as we loaded their luggage in our pushcarts and asked them to pay our cashier P50/bag and after the services we rendered there goes what we are waiting for – the tip,” one of them said.

He said now he would be lucky to haul 20 bags a day amid the crisis at the airport.

“And we are still lucky if we earn P200/day as tip.

Because of the scandal, most of the passengers avoid porters at the airport.

“Most of them even warned us against planting bullets in their luggage,” he said. – With Rudy Santos, Artemio Marquez, Cecille Suerte Felipe

ACIRC

ANTONINA AGUSTIN

ARTEMIO MARQUEZ

CECILLE SUERTE FELIPE

LUISITO SOLITARIO

MANILA CITY PROSECUTOR EDWARD TOGONON

MANILA PROSECUTOR

NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

ON MONDAY

PASAY CITY

WITH RUDY SANTOS

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