With the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)’s fact-finding report confirming the “tanim-bala” or bullet-planting extortion scam at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), PNoy can no longer justify keeping Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) secretary and Liberal Party stalwart Joseph Emilio Abaya and NAIA general manager (and PNoy uncle)
Jose Angel Honrado in their posts a minute longer.
For PNoy to retain Abaya and Honrado, despite the overwhelming clamor from his “bosses” to give them the boot, will only prove once again that under his “daang matuwid” regime, friendship trumps competence, and personal and political alliances take precedence over qualification–and good governance.
In a press conference held last week, DOJ Undersecretary and spokesman Emmanuel Caparas said the NBI’s findings are contained in its report, which has already been submitted to Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa. Caparas also added that based on documents and interviews, the NBI task force found that several personnel of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) – an attached agency of the DOTC under Abaya and one of the NAIA units under the direct supervision of Honrado – have been involved in bullet-planting incidents.
For many ordinary folks, the sacking of Abaya and Honrado is long overdue. The NBI’s fact-finding report merely confirms the sentiment of many Filipinos that both Abaya and Honrado are either too dumb to know what’s happening in their own backyard, or that they are purposely ignoring or covering up the shenanigans of their people – or worse, as some critics suggest, that they are both involved in or are profiting from the scam.
Who can forget how Abaya tried to downplay the tanim bala extortion racket at the airport saying the issue was merely being “blown out of proportion”? At the time, Abaya said only 1,510 (or .004 percent) of the 32.4 million passengers who passed through NAIA Terminals 1 to 4 have been caught in possession of bullets.
We’re also sure the public still vividly remembers the bumbling excuses of Honrado who tried to wash his hands of the bullet scam mess and the other problems at the airport. During the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing last month, Honrado told the senators that he had no control and supervision over the baggage inspectors accused of planting bullets on travelers to extort money from them. When Senator Bongbong Marcos asked what his job was then, Honrado answered, “To ensure the smooth flow at the airport.” Seriously?!!!
Anyway, as a result of its findings, the NBI filed criminal charges against two OTS personnel for planting evidence, and against four officers of the PNP-Aviation Security Group (ASG) for robbery extortion, in connection with the bullet-planting incident involving Lane White, an American missionary victimized by the scheme last September.
It appears that different and separate criminal charges were filed against the OTS personnel and ASG officers because the NBI could not prove that there was a conspiracy among them or that there was a syndicate behind the scam.
True, the NBI cannot yet prove that an extortion syndicate is operating inside the NAIA. But that does not mean a syndicate does not in fact exist inside the airport. It is highly unlikely that a scam like “tanim bala” can be perpetrated only by a few people from different offices, acting independently of each other and without the cooperation or knowledge of other personnel or agencies within the airport.
The airport is a small and closely-knit community. Everybody knows the latest gossip about their co-workers, more so when it involves a money-making racket like “tanim-bala.” So it is not surprising that TV network ABS-CBN was able to snag an interview with a former OTS officer who confirmed that the tanim-bala scam has been a long-time modus at the airport. If an investigative reporter can independently confirm the existence of an extortion conspiracy, surely the NBI can do better.
But whether a conspiracy has been established or not, the fact that some airport security screeners have been found responsible for planting bullets in passengers’ luggage should serve as a wake-up call to Malacañang.
Can you imagine what would happen if a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent – the American counterpart of our OTS screener – was caught planting bullets in the luggage of passengers? We’re sure President Barack Obama would not only kick some ass, he’d quickly order a top-to-bottom overhaul of airport security personnel and procedure.
Of course, PNoy isn’t like Obama, although sometimes he thinks he is. PNoy obviously believes Abaya and Honrado can do no wrong. He blames media for sensationalizing the news on tanim-bala cases. Like his good friend Abaya, PNoy thinks the victims are too few to be taken seriously, citing that there were only 1,200 incidents out of the 34 million passengers passing through the airport every year.
One thing’s for sure though. The NBI fact-finding report confirming the bullet-planting scam debunks the claim of PNoy’s allies and supporters like LP presidential bet Mar Roxas that the tanim-bala controversy is a “demolition job against the Aquino government.” Instead of blaming their political adversaries, PNoy should just man up and do his job by firing Abaya and Honrado, and revamping NAIA.