DOJ sets probe of latest tanim-bala

Edu Punay, Rudy Santos - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to investigate the latest suspected case of bullet-planting or tanim-bala at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), this time involving an elderly couple.

The DOJ summoned 78-year-old Esteban Cortabista and his 75-year-old wife Salvacion to a preliminary hearing on the charge of illegal possession of ammunition, a violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.

Investigating Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva set the hearing on May 3.

Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta, who is providing free legal assistance to the couple, said they would prove before the DOJ that the two were victims of the tanim-bala syndicate at the airport.

“We went to their house in Antipolo (City) last Friday to get their statements. We will prove their innocence in the hearing,” Acosta vowed.

The couple was barred from boarding Korean Airlines flight KE 622 bound for Los Angeles via Seoul last April 19 after the Office for Transport Security (OTS) personnel found a live .38-caliber bullet in one of their hand-carried bags at the departure area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1.

They denied owning the bullet and insisted that the airport personnel planted it in their hand-carried bag.

Both claimed that they were aware of the ban on bullets and pointed out that nothing illegal was detected when their belongings went through an X-ray examination at the initial security check area.

Airport authorities are also reportedly looking into a claim that the NAIA wheelchair attendant who aided the elderly couple asked for money to settle the case.

The couple’s niece, Fei Balagot, alleged that a certain Niño Namba asked for P50,000 so that the Cortabistas could be immediately released.

After the inquest proceeding, the NAIA resident prosecutors did not immediately find probable cause to file a case in court or keep the two in detention, thus they were released.

The NAIA was listed in the site The Guide to Sleeping in Airports as the worst in the world from 2011 to 2013, citing the difficulty in shuttling to and from terminals, leaking and collapsing ceilings, poor customer service and crowded seating areas, among others.

In 2015, it also mentioned the cases of bullet-planting incidents and urged tourists and overseas Filipino workers to keep an eye on their belongings, especially from the initial security check to the final security check areas.

It also suggested that passengers lock their bags and other carry-on items to minimize the chances of falling prey to the bullet-planting scam.

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