NBI confirms ‘tanim-bala’

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

6 airport personnel face raps  

MANILA, Philippines - There is indeed a tanim-bala or bullet-planting extortion scam at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), but those behind it are not organized as a syndicate, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said yesterday.

The NBI’s findings are contained in its report on the spate of bullet-planting incidents at the airport that was submitted to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

It also filed charges against six airport personnel in connection with the case of Lane White, an American missionary victimized by the scheme last September.

The NBI filed criminal charges against two Office for Transportation Security (OTS) personnel and four officers of the police Aviation Security Group (ASG) for the bullet-planting incident involving White and his stepmother Eloisa Zoleta.

Named respondents were Marvin Garcia and Ma. Elma Cegna of OTS; Police Insp. Adriano Junio, Senior Police Officer 4 Ramon Bernardo, SPO2 Romy Navarro and Rolando Clarin, all of the ASG.

In a press conference, DOJ Undersecretary and spokesman Emmanuel Caparas said the NBI task force found that several personnel of the OTS have been involved in bullet-planting incidents based on documents and interviews.

“Based on investigation, there was indeed an instance of the tanim-bala scam by corrupt OTS officers to obtain financial considerations in lieu of non-filing of cases against passengers,” he revealed.

“However, the likelihood of a syndicate was not established. While corrupt airport officials may be behind the scheme, the group is not big enough for it to be called a syndicate,” Caparas stressed, citing the conclusion in the NBI report.

The DOJ official explained that a syndicate would mean many people acting together in unison or following a plan.

“The NBI cannot establish that. In these incidents, only certain people are involved,” he said.

In coming up with such conclusion, probers took into consideration historical data and cases over the past five years.

Caparas, however, did not reveal the other findings of the bureau that he said were inconclusive and would need further investigation.

“The NBI still wishes to continue looking into these incidents. The investigation is not over yet, with the same inclination to really find out how these incidents came to be and why it’s continuing to this day,” he clarified.

He said the NBI report submitted to Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa last Tuesday recommended the filing of criminal charges against several OTS personnel.

Asked if there are ranking airport officials tagged in the scheme in the NBI probe, Caparas said an answer would be “speculative” as he also admitted that the aspect of command responsibility was not touched in the probe.

The DOJ official said Caguioa would again talk with the bureau to discuss the conduct of further investigation on the issue.

The ASG yesterday welcomed the outcome of the NBI investigation and filing of charges against four of unit’s members for the bullet-planting scam.

ASG spokesman Chief Insp. Samuel Hojilla said they would not tolerate any of its members who are involved in illegal activities and will respect the result of the bureau’s investigation.

OFW lawyer wants Honrado out

Meanwhile, a lawyer of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was detained for several days at the ASG office before being released because of a bullet that was found in her possession is calling for the resignation of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Jose Angel Honrado.

Lawyer Spocky Farolan insisted that Honrado should resign for delicadeza to “allow more competent and qualified manager to manage the airport.”

Farolan, pro-bono lawyer of OFW and alleged bullet-planting scam victim Gloria Ortinez, believes that the tanim-bala scam at the NAIA involving OTS and ASG personnel is a syndicate.

In the transmittal letter filed yesterday afternoon, the NBI recommended the conduct of preliminary investigation against Garcia and Cegna for violation of Article 5, Section 3 (B) (Liability for Planting Evidence) of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunitions Regulation Act.

On the other hand, the police officers were charged with violation of Article 293 (robbery and extortion) of the Revised Penal Code, violation of Republic Act 7438 (An Act Defining Certain Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or under Custodial Investigation and Duties of the Arresting, Detaining or Investigating Officers) and Republic Act 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

The 20-year-old White was arrested last Sept. 17 and charged with possession of a .22 caliber bullet, which was supposedly detected when his baggage went through the X-ray scanner at the NAIA.

White said his refusal to pay P30,000 allegedly demanded by OTS personnel in exchange for his release led to his detention for six days at the ASG detention cell and the filing of charges against him for violation of RA 10591 before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.

He gained temporary liberty after Pasay RTC allowed him to post a P40,000 bail.  

The Pasay RTC Branch 119 dismissed yesterday afternoon the illegal possession of ammunition case filed against White.

White’s lawyer Ernesto Arellano said Judge Pedro Gutierrez signed the decision in response to their motion to dismiss.

Additional cops at NAIA

The PNP ASG in cooperation with the Airport Police Department (APD) at NAIA terminals would deploy several armed teams of uniformed and civilian policemen in the four terminals to make sure the airports are safe.

ASG chief Director Francisco Pablo Balagtas said that he coordinated with the airport police and airline officials regarding the deployment of bomb sniffing dogs or K-9 units in the area where passengers and their relatives wait for their flights at the airport.

“We want to make sure that our people are in the right place to avoid unnecessary circumstances specially this holiday season,” Balagtas said.

The MIAA in coordination with ASG would implement “Oplan Lakbay Pasko 2015” in anticipation of the increase in passenger traffic this Christmas season.

Jess Martinez, head of media affairs of the MIAA, said that coordination has been made with the different airlines operating at the airport terminals regarding the efficient processing of their passengers, especially at the check-in counters.

The airlines were advised to deploy more personnel as needed to accommodate the increase in travelers, Martinez added.

Security and traffic at the NAIA will be closely coordinated among the APD, ASG, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the local governments of Parañaque City and Pasay City. 

Meanwhile, NAIA Terminal 1 manager Dante Basanta said if passengers are not able to reach their assigned terminal due to traffic around the airport, they are advised to get to the nearest terminal and take the airport shuttle bus at the arrival area.

These shuttle buses will transport passengers to their assigned terminals by means of the airside route or the road adjacent to the tarmac. With Rudy Santos, Perseus Echeminada

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