WHAT a difference a serious investigation makes in the tanim-bala or bullet-planting extortion racket! And what a joke it is on the nation when officials who should be the natural subjects of the investigation are taking charge of it!
Thank God a serious and professional investigation into the racket has finally been launched by competent government probers who have the full authority.
Difference between night and day
DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya’s laughable inquiry is night as to day and black is to white compared to the investigation just ordered by the newly-installed Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, with the National Bureau of Investigation as principal prober.
In the probe led by DOTC’s Abaya–who has command responsibility over the airport mess to begin with–before his probers could even get their feet wet, word was already being leaked that the probers were finding that the scam was “overblown” (suggesting that media are to blame for exaggerating the racket) and that the percentage of travelers being victimized was not as high as reported by the press.
Then followed statements by administration sources that the bullet-planting racket scandal was nothing but an opposition plot to demonize the Aquino regime and to torpedo the presidential candidacy of Manuel Mar Roxas 2nd.
The false picture being painted by Abaya et al. dramatically changed after Secretary Caguioa took the bull by the horns and decided to order an investigation by the Justice department itself, using all the resources under its command.
Caguioa issued a department order last Monday and told media about it on Wednesday. The order mandated the following:
1. The formation of an NBI special task force to “undertake an investigation on all incidents of the tanim-bala scam”; and
2. Instructed the task force to undertake “a case buildup on the possible criminal and/or administrative liabilities of all individuals and agencies involved, whether public or private.”
Secretary Caguioa ordered the task force to “act with dispatch” and report within 15 days. He wants the task force to coordinate with “all relevant government agencies” to accomplish the job.
Within a day of the issuance of the department order, and the formation of the NBI task force, there were already several positive results.
First, there was positive confirmation by actual victims and witnesses that the bullet-planting extortion racket is a fact that has been going on for some time.
A report in the Inquirer said the NBI investigation has established that an extortion syndicate preying mainly on the elderly and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and involving personnel from various state agencies, has been engaged in planting bullets in the bags of airline passengers and in harassing them by questioning their travel papers, in order to extort money from them.
Initial findings by agents of the NBI showed that the modus operandi of the syndicate used porters to identify potential victims of the “tanim-bala” racket, and then accomplices in the security and immigration services would take over from them inside the four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
In its investigation, the NBI task force is commendably looking at records as far back as several years ago in order to determine and identify the members of the syndicate.
Lawgiver and law enforcer of one mind
In a statement, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has said that the tanim-bala racket has exploited Republic Act No. 10591, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Act, under the pretense of strictly enforcing it.
In fact, the act is being abused by corrupt supposed enforcers of the law. Senator Santiago has proposed the creation of a task force similar to what Secreetary Caguioa has created, to investigate alleged illicit activity of state agents at airports, recommend sanctions against those involved, and put in place mechanisms that will deter similar schemes.
What we have here is a meeting of minds between a lawmaker (Senator Santiago) and a law enforcer (Secretary Caguioa), who should work together in rooting out the scam.
A corrective to the extortion racket cannot happen soon enough. Government must work with dispatch to assure the millions of our OFWs and foreign guests that they can pass through our airports without being victimized or harassed. Tourists are guests of the nation, and they deserve every courtesy and help from the people manning our airports.
OFWs are our modern-day heroes, and they should be honored not cheated.
The bullet-planting racket festered because of poor management of our airports.
Reform should start with the firing of the incumbent Manila International Airport Authority General manager. But the big question is whether President Aquino will ever have the balls to fire a favored crony.
If he can’t, then it’s Aquino whom we should throw under the bus.