IT is absolutely unbelievable that after weeks of news stories and angry posts on social media detailing incident after incident in which some innocent traveler fell victim to extortion by security or other workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), no one in the airport’s management organization or the government has lifted a finger to stop the epidemic of thievery.
In the latest incidents, a Japanese citizen departing to return home and an OFW leaving for work in Hong Kong both fell victim to what has become known as “laglag bala,” or bullet-planting, a scam in which an unwitting traveler is told that a bullet – which is of course illegal to carry on an airplane or in an airport – has been found in his or her baggage. The victim is then threatened with arrest, and reportedly offered the option of paying a bribe to be released to go on their way.
In a separate incident reported on Thursday, an elderly, wheelchair bound passenger hired a porter to assist her with her luggage – her son, entertainment writer Ruel Mendoza, was waiting outside to pick her up – only to be taken to the farther end of Terminal 1, where the porter attempted to extract a larger payment for his services. Refusing to be cheated, poor Mrs. Mendoza was left there, and later rescued by airport security after her son became alarmed that she had not exited the terminal more than an hour after her flight arrived.
How many times these sorts of incidents may have happened we can only guess; the public only becomes aware of them when a brave victim refuses to cooperate with his or her tormentors in uniform. The epidemic of thievery has been going on for weeks, if not longer. Our columnist Ramon Tulfo first wrote about it more than a month ago, and it seems to have only gotten worse.
In the typical casual way the Aquino Administration seems to always approach looming corruption scandals, the Palace has only this week promised a “probe” of the incidents, the first hint of any interest by any official or agency in the government.
It is far too late for an insincere promise of an investigation, and especially so when the agency to be tasked with carrying it out, the Office of Transport Security (OTS), is the one whose staff members are reportedly the perpetrators of most of the crimes.
The only sensible move at this point – which we are all certain but President Aquino, who takes a rather tolerant view towards misbehavior in his own government, will be unwilling to take – would be to suspend the entire OTS and temporarily turn over the task of maintaining airport security to a more trustworthy force such as the Philippine National Police, or even the armed forces, until the obviously badly needed corrections can be carried out. Anything less will not restore the public’s confidence, or reduce the risk that even more travelers will be victimized.
Until that happens, we feel it is necessary to warn the traveling public – in particular, our visitors from overseas whose otherwise very welcome presence might be spoiled by the callous greed of a few – to exercise extreme caution, and to avoid NAIA altogether if possible.