No end to bullet carriers
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2015 - 9:00am

In the early days of October this year, the controversy erupted over alleged incidents which were first called as “laglag-bala” “at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and in other airports in the country. It then became known as “tanim-bala and grew to a big issue while the government was busy fine-tuning preparations for the country’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ summit.

The supposed victims were mostly departing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) found carrying live bullet/s or empty bullet shells detected in their luggage. After going through X-ray machines and inspection by airport authorities, some of those found with the illegal item in their luggage claimed innocence. Many of them, however, admitted they carried it as either for souvenir while others believed the bullet serves as an amulet or good luck charm for them.

Under our existing laws and even at airports in other countries, it is illegal to possess live bullet, especially if a passenger brings it in his or her luggage or other personal belongings. Possession of even just one bullet is enough to cause trouble for the naïve, or ignorant of this law – to bluntly describe those caught with the banned item.

It is not as if such incidents never happened before. In fact, there have been many cases in the past involving not only Filipinos but also foreign passengers who were caught with bullet/s in their luggage or in their personal possession while going through our airport terminals. But many of them who were caught have actually no ill motive except that they commonly believe bullets are charms or amulets, if not souvenirs.

But apparently such belief became lucrative source of corruption by several unscrupulous airport personnel. Scanners from the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) and aviation security and airport personnel were implicated in the alleged extortion syndicate behind the “tanim-bala” apprehensions.

This started the whole hullaballoo about “tanim-bala” incidents after victims initially denounced this racket on Facebook posts about their supposed encounters with the alleged “tanim-bala” syndicate members at the airports. The self-proclaimed victims claimed being asked to pay sums of money by certain unscrupulous airport personnel. Since they don’t want to be arrested, of course for illegal possession of bullet/s, the victims paid off members of this alleged extortion racket.

The claims gained credence after some of the victims came out in the open and issued affidavits against a number of airport personnel. The celebrated arrests of OFWs prompted authorities, including the Senate and the House of Representatives to conduct their respective investigations into these allegations.

The respective heads of the OTS, the Aviation Security Group, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), and the other officials of the various government agencies at NAIA and other airports were summoned in the Senate public hearing on these alleged “tanim-bala” incidents.

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya Jr. came under fire anew over these incidents. A majority of the government agencies operating inside the NAIA and other airports are attached to the DOTC under Abaya’s supervision.

Abaya cited only about 1,200 out of 34 million passengers every year passing through NAIA have been apprehended for possession of bullet or other banned ammunition. As far as these statistics are concerned, Abaya pointed out, the alleged “tanim-bala” reports were overblown.

Last Sunday, President Aquino echoed the same statistical comparison of Abaya. In his press conference before he flew back to Manila after attending the ASEAN Leaders’ summit held in Malaysia, the President noted, there were only three recorded incidents of alleged extortion by certain OTS personnel at the airport.

The President calculated the statistical probability of alleged existence of “tanim-bala” syndicate at NAIA would merely be three out of 34 million.

But this three out of 34 million statistical probability has made our Philippine airports the butt of nasty jokes and spoofs in other countries. Enterprising techies are making money now out of an electronic game inspired by “tanim-bala” idea. Previously ignored at the NAIA, business has become brisk for plastic-wrapping vendors for passengers who secure their luggage with plastic cover against “tanim-bala” attempts.

Thus, President Aquino bewailed the “tanim-bala” or bullet planting issue has been “sensationalized” in media because none of the three recorded cases proved existence of “tanim-bala” extortion syndicate at NAIA. The President though stopped short of identifying who he referred to as having benefitted from such “sensationalized” publicity.

In much worse situation is MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado whose removal from office has been repeatedly sought by groups of OFWs and the travel industry. The growing calls for the resignation, if not removal of Honrado as MIAA chief reverberated all the way to Malacañang, but were obviously ignored by the appointing authority. Several OTS personnel were suspended pending investigation of complaints against them.

Honrado has been hot under the collar since NAIA  earned the ignominy of being included in the list of worst airports in the world. It persisted in Honrado’s watch of our country’s premier airport named in honor of President Aquino’s late father NAIA, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. who was assassinated at the airport tarmac. The retired Air Force general also once served as senior military aide-de-camp during the term of P-Noy’s late mother, former President Corazon Aquino.

It did not help any when Honrado testified at the Senate public hearing insisting he has no authority and control over airport personnel from other government agencies as MIAA general manager. Honrado, by the way, is a coterminous appointee of the outgoing President whose countdown in office is now on its last seven months.

Curiously, however, even while these “tanim-bala” allegations were coming out in media, there is no end to bullet carrying passengers being caught, including two more incidents yesterday at NAIA. So has media been sensationalizing these reports?

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