Plastic-wrapped bags bring shame to airport screeners
An administrative complaint was filed on Tuesday against transport officials, led by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, in connection with an alleged extortion racket involving the slipping of bullets into the bags of passengers checking in for their flights.
The complaint, which was filed with the Office of the Ombudsman by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Dante Jimenez, president of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), also sought the preventive suspension of the officials involved during pendency of the case.
Also named respondents to the complaint were Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado; retired commodore Roland Recomono, administrator of the Office of Transport Security (OTS); and Chief Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas, director of the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup).
Meanwhile, at least four airline passengers were apprehended by airport security also on Tuesday after screeners detected bullets in their bags, radio station dzBB reported last night.
The OTS has confiscated a total of 84 rounds of ammunition from airline passengers from January to October 2015.
The MIAA and the OTS are attached agencies of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) which Abaya heads while the Avsegroup is an operating unit of the Philippine National Police.
The OTS is the agency in charge of screening passengers and their belongings while the Avsegroup is primarily in charge of police matters within the airport premises.
The Avsegroup is distinct from the Airport Police Department, which is under the MIAA.
Cayetano and the VACC’s petition said the officials must be held administratively liable for gross neglect of duty under Executive Order 226 [EO] or the “Doctrine of Command Responsibility in All Government Offices and Agencies.”
“The heart of the cause of action of this complaint is the gross inaction of the respondents, even amidst knowledge of the crime or offense of their subordinates or lapses within their jurisdiction,” the complaint read.
“If our officials cannot solve these issues fast and ensure the safety and well-being of the people they are sworn to protect, then I see no point in making them remain in office. They should be dismissed and removed from their post,” Cayetano said in a press statement.
The complaint cited that under EO 226 issued in 1995 by then-President Fidel V. Ramos, “any government official or supervisor, or officer of the PNP or any law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for Neglect of Duty under the doctrine of ‘command responsibility’ if they have knowledge of an offense… committed by their subordinates… and despite such knowledge, did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during or immediately after its commission.”
The same EO was cited by former president Ramos in March when he said President Benigno Aquino 3rd and the PNP top brass could be held liable for the Mamasapano incident.
“This extortion scheme has been going on for years and the respondents named in this complaint have not done anything to address this. Why is this being investigated only now?” Cayetano told reporters.
“It’s very clear under EO 226 that if a crime is happening, in this case the ‘laglag-bala’ or ‘tanim-bala’ and if the superior knew that such thing was happening and he did not do anything, he has to answer for it. They’ve known this for long time,” he said in Filipino.
Cayetano together with Senators Grace Poe, Ralph Recto and Miriam Defensor-Santiago have filed separate resolutions asking the Senate to hold a congressional inquiry into the alleged extortion scheme.
Reacting to the filing of the complaint, Honrado said, “It’s their right.”
Malacañang again assured the public that the government is taking concrete steps in addressing the alleged ‘tanim-bala’ racket.
Its spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the DOTC will make an announcement probably this week of the measures that will be undertaken.
“[The] DOTC will show the entire picture. We hope the DOTC will be able to convince our countrymen, our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) that measures are being undertaken and it’s not true that we are not doing anything about it,” he added.
Lacierda said the DOTC is addressing alleged ‘bullet-planting’ incidents based on the data submitted by the MIAA and the OTS.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd earlier ordered the DOTC to conduct an investigation of the “laglag-bala” extortion scheme.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) wants the truth to come out on the racket.
“We want the truth to come out whoever is involved in this… whether he is a member of the PNP more so that we will discipline him,” the PNP spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, told reporters.
Mayor said they will get to the bottom of the issue even as he reiterated an earlier statement by the Avsegroup spokesman that it is impossible for the police to be involved in the racket as they have no participation in the security inspection at the airport.
“It would be impossible [for the police to put a bullet in a bag. They are outside the X-ray area],” he explained.
Airport security screeners said they are “demoralized” and are “humiliated” with the bashing they have received over the alleged extortion racket.
“We are demoralized, humiliated and even threatened,” OTS team leader Ceferino de Ocampo said. “In the eyes of the public, we are so bad. Yet, no one wants to stand for us.”
De Ocampo added that the OTS frontliners have already been judged by the public.
He appealed to the public to wait for results of the investigation of their colleagues. “We cannot say the 40 employees are guilty, because they are still under investigation.”
Nanette Ramos, an OTS supervisor, tearfully told GMA News that they lose face each time they see bags tightly wrapped in plastic being checked into their X-ray machines.
She said she and her colleagues are willing to undergo lie-detector tests and even lifestyle checks to once and for all determine who are into the extortion racket.
To ease the allegations of bullet-planting, the OTS is implementing a “no touch policy” in four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Advice to OFWs
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the best way for travelers, particularly OFWs, to avoid getting victimized is for them to always watch their bags and not let anybody touch them.
“I urge airline passengers, OFWs particularly, to be alert, careful and vigilant with regard to their luggage,” she added.
“ They should hold on to their luggage, or be very close, never away from them, while these are being checked, and report any suspicious activity or movement of airport personnel handling their luggage.
“Don’t leave your luggage. Don’t keep them away from your view. Better still, inventory the contents of your luggage before you leave for the airport and keep this inventory with you.
Show them to the authorities if necessary before they check or screen your luggage,” she added.
Baldoz expressed disappointment over the incidents, noting that it could sow fear among OFWs, especially those planning to come home for a vacation in the coming holidays.
OFW advocate Susan “Toots” Ople urged the Office of the President to form a special team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the so-called “tanim-bala” and other incidents that have caused fear and trauma among Filipino passengers, particularly overseas workers.
“The act of wrapping all luggage in plastic is already an act of self-defense by our overseas workers and other passengers. This erosion of trust will take time to heal and restore, and it all begins with a comprehensive and thorough investigation spearheaded by trained NBI agents who are not part of the airport security apparatus,” Ople said.