NAIA most dangerous airport in the world

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The P3.5 billion arrears that the Court of Tax Appeals is ordering Shell Corp. to pay up is but half of what the government wants. What the BIR originally had demanded from the petroleum giant was P7.3 billion in excise tax from blending components it imports to make gasoline environmentally compliant.

In 2009 then-BIR chief Joel Tan Torres assessed the total to be that much. He was acting on findings of presidential aide Narciso Santiago Jr. that the company was selling the stocks, mostly regular and light catalytic cracked gasoline. More than that, the new Internal Revenue and Customs Code specified that all fuel products are subject to tax. Santiago, then the Malacañang special assistant for large taxpayers, has a run-in with previous BIR officials who hesitated to collect the back taxes of 2004-2009.

The CTA last week ruled that Shell must pay only P3.5 billion, covering 2006-2009. That’s because the firm had been granted exemptions from the excise taxes in 2004-2005, under a congressional amnesty on all unpaid levies in 2005 and earlier.

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Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda tried in vain to belittle the latest racket at the airports. “Six cases, maybe more,” he casually quoted Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya about departing passengers caught recently with bullets in their luggage at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

But for ordinary Filipinos, the incidents are simply one too many. Relatives and friends working or living abroad will come to visit this Christmas. They wouldn’t want them to be framed too with false charges, then extorted of thousands of pesos, for “illegal possession of live ammunition.” So they angrily have been crying for action in the social media, the modern-day weapon against inept, insensitive officials.

The scam, by rogue airport policemen, has become so prevalent that Netizens have coined a name for it: “tanim bala (bullet planting).” It’s usually pulled off at the baggage x-ray booth. Security inspectors deftly slip a bullet or two into the side pocket of a valise, then accost the owner to shake him down for all he’s worth. The harassed passenger usually gives in, lest he be offloaded from his flight, booked for the heinous offense, and branded a “terrorist” for life. The crooks have become so good at it that they can stuff the incriminating evidence with their hands in the back. They know how to avoid detection by CCTV security cameras, which are low-grade to begin with so the images are blurry.

The latest victim, like most of the rest, is least likely to be typified a terrorist. A 56-year-old provincial working for 20 years as a domestic in Hong Kong, she had no explicable use for the two 9-mm. rounds that the cops found in her carry-on bag the other weekend. In fact she was only transiting at NAIA back to overseas work, and so had been checked and cleared at her airport of origin in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. Realizing too late that they were preying on the wrong victim, the racketeers could not clear their tracks in time. The passenger adamantly refused to pull out the “suspicious items” as ordered, so they handcuffed and dragged her away, creating a scene.

Only weeks before her also were arrested an American missionary and a Japanese tourist. Their ordeals came to light only after a Filipino immigrant to the US detailed on Facebook how she had been set up with one live bullet and one shell in her bag for shakedown, but let off on a relatively light “fine” of P500 ($11) because she was wheelchair-bound so an unlikely gun-running merchant of death.

The arrest of a Japanese businessman, at NAIA the same Sunday and under the same circumstances as the jailed woman, attracted foreign media attention. Malacañang, which heretofore has been claiming the incidents to be isolated, was forced to “order an investigation.” But to what extent is iffy, as always when its friends are involved. The sickly NAIA general manager is a cousin of President Noynoy Aquino. Transport chief Abaya, ex-aide-de-camp of his late President-mother Cory Aquino, is treated as the little brother P-Noy never had. The NAIA airport police is a virtual private army separate from the PNP; and the transport security office, always quick to deny the existence of any racket, reports straight to Abaya. So expect no heads to roll. The crooks that arrested the poor woman have come up with a nifty story on why her bullets had eluded detection at the Laoag airport: the x-ray machine supposedly was busted.

It seems to not matter that the Manila airport is named after P-Noy’s democracy martyr-father. Due to its poor services and facilities, like the three-year-long runway congestion, NAIA has been branded among the world’s worst. All Philippine airports might soon be called the most dangerous. For, the “tanim bala” appears to be going on elsewhere.

As Lacierda chattered on government radio Saturday, an engineer was being arrested at the Davao International Airport for having – again – two 9-mm. rounds in his overnight bag. He was returning to Manila from where he had flown to inspect a waterworks, so had no reason too to be carrying ammo. He had to post a P120,000-cash bond to be let go.

The day before, two outbound Filipino overseas workers separately were accosted at the NAIA, with an M16 and a .45-caliber round. It would seem that an armory frantically is being built. GMA News reports that airport cops have “confiscated” from passengers 3,250 pieces of ammunition since the start of the year. That, along with “tanim droga (drug planting),” foreign currency shortchanging of new arrivals in need of pesos, taxi overcharging, and outright holdup are signs that the country now belongs to lawmen-turned-outlaws.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA


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