IT is beyond me why this government has yet to act decisively on the Laglag Bala / Tanim Bala [Drop Bullet/Plant Bullet] extortion racket at our international airports.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it that there are many other more important concerns, with the APEC being held here and all, with the survivors of Haiyan still waiting for their homes two years since the storm, with the growing number of impoverished, with so many unable to afford quality education, with so many unemployed and underemployed, with the Lumad demanding justice for their dead and demanding that they get back their communities and their land.

You know, government is busy. How can they worry about some small-time scheme that charges very few for purportedly carrying bullets in their luggage?

Shame and embarrassment
And yet it has to mean something that this bullet scam has taken over mainstream news. It has to mean something that it’s been in the news this long, with victims reported practically daily. It has to mean something that there is now a service that will cling-wrap bags for a price before you enter the airport.

It has to matter that it has gotten to this point when we get ourselves on Fox News. It has to matter that a Japanese show has spoofed this scam. And we could go on and on.

One can hear government spinning it and saying: well, it could be worse. We could get this exposure for more violent, more shameful things. We can hear the three communications offices blaming the media for blowing this out of proportion – complete with a quote (or three!) from the government’s anointed one.

At the same time, it also seems that they’d like to brush it off as a minor issue, one that is “pa-isa-isa lang [a once-in-a-while thing]” one that is simply about “contraband being brought into the airport.” Yet in the same breath we have heard them talk about syndicates and men in uniform being held responsible for this problem.

And then you wonder why they vacillate between those two ends of the same pole. Isn’t it that in cases of injustice, it does not matter whether the scam victimizes one or 100? Isn’t it that in cases where bullets are being planted in travelers’ luggage, one traveler is one too many?

Shouldn’t it be utterly embarrassing for this government that it cannot solve this quickly and decisively? Isn’t it an absolute shame that they are not treating this like an urgent problem? That it has gotten to this point when international news and TV shows are talking about our airports – a government service by the way – and laughing at us?

This is beyond being called worst airport in the world. This is the most corrupt airport.

How surprising that “matuwid na daan” will stand for it.

Superficial wounds
And yet one also knows that this issue is absolutely superficial, especially when we consider the kind of violence it distracts us from, a violence that is here and now, but is taking the backseat, is in the inside pages of the news – if at all – because these are not “headline-worthy.”

We would like to think we are better at using social media now, that we know now to manipulate it better. And yet we also prove otherwise in instances like this one, where we make choices about what to talk about, what to see and what not to see, what to share and what not to share. And so in the midst of Laglag / Tanim Bala taking over our social media newsfeeds, one wonders what we all think of other – more urgent – things.

Say, the second year death anniversary of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, and the survivors’ call for the houses promised them, the better lives and livelihood that we were told the world had donated money for. (Huffington Post, 2 November)

Say, the massive clean-up of our streets, and that includes the demolition of informal settlements, the probable disappearance of vagrants and street kids (Philippine Star, 23 January)

Say, the fact that once again we are being faced with the possibility of losing all of our mobile phone signals – in the same way that government ordered telcos to jam mobile phone signals while the Pope was here (Interaksyon, 16 January). And once again no one is questioning it.

Early this year, while the Pope was here, I remember an old friend and I looking at each other and thinking: puwede pala gawin ng gobyerno ito?

And so I hear they will be doing it again.

Real bullets
But since no one is complaining, since everyone is just looking at the Laglag Bala scam, while government decides not to do anything about it, what we have is a populace perfectly distracted from the real bullets in our midst.

The threat of eviction against the Lumad Camp in Liwasang Bonifacio, which by the way is not coming from the Manila City Hall.

The assertions used against the camp are old and familiar – and you can imagine who it’s coming from. It’s said that the camp will disrupt normal economic and social activity and will create an unsanitary environment that will impact safety and order. That it would be unsightly. That the camp might be infiltrated by groups and used against the upcoming APEC activities.

I let go of the first two things, because that’s old hat. Infiltration is just as old, but in the case of the Lumad it is unfair. How dare anyone say that this 700 Lumad can be manipulated into taking a stand for or against anything. How dare any of us judge the Lumad based on the organizations that are helping them out, based on the groups that have stood united with their cause?

The Lumad who are here are already survivors of the violence of militarization and mining and environmental degradation in Mindanao. The kids are survivors of the violence they have witnessed, of losing their schools and teachers to the gun and bullets of the paramilitary in their lands.

Lumad who are here at the very least deserve to be treated as the independent voices that they are. At the very least, we do not drown them in the silence that governments have relegated them to.

One hopes we can go beyond the distraction of bullets as anting-antings and souvenirs, of bullets planted in airport baggage that can be solved swiftly and easily. The real bullets in our midst, the guns pointed at the heads of the Lumad, those have to be more compelling.

Hope springs eternal.


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  1. Fernando Albordo on

    We have cancelled our annual Christmas visit to our family because of this security risk. Now the US FAA is talking about stopping all flights originating in the Philippines. I am so ashamed.

  2. kawawa na si Juan De la cruz sa mga dilawan na mga kakutsaba ni Abnoy Aquino. na nagpayaman sa pera ng bayan, na siya namn nagpahirap sa mamayang Filipino. Gising Pilipinas, huwag ninyong sabihin na nakinabang kayo sa nakaw na pera ng bayan thru bribery ni Pnoy…

  3. “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap”

    Empty words from the most incompetent, corrupt, laziest and heartless president this country ever had.

  4. The goverment has too many problems and Tanim bala should not be one if the authorities acted quickly to solve this problem. They should have checked and pinpointed the culprits. What happened was a few weeks pass and no action from NAIA or dot abaya. Now it is so big that it is affecting our tourism. That is the biggest problem of Aquino administration… Very slow in everything. Now there is a problem of rice shortage, see how this goverment react.