DESPITE the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil Aquino policy on the “Tanim-bala” [plant-bullets] scam, justice is inexorably moving to redress the dismal situation at the Ninoy Aquino International airport (NAIA).
As if to show that there is indeed a new sheriff in town (Justice Secretary Alfredo Caguioa instead of the clueless Leila De Lima), the investigation of the extortion racket, led by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), has speedily come up with an initial report and even recommended the indictment of some perpetrators of the scam.
The NBI probe team filed last Thursday before the Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal complaints against two employees of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) and four personnel of the Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup).
The NBI had earlier confirmed that Tanim Bala was fact and not fiction, and that airport personnel had indeed tried to extort money from travellers.
Probe will continue
In a news conference, Justice Undersecretary Emmanuel Caparas identified the respondents as Maria Elma Cena and Marvin Garcia, both of the OTS; and Chief Insp. Adriano D. Junio, Senior Police Officer 4 Ramon A. Bernardo, SPO2 Rolando A. Clarin and SPO2 Romy U. Navarro, all of the Avsegroup.
The DOJ acted mainly on the complaints filed by Ms. Eloisa S. Zoleta and her stepson, Lane Michael White, both of Barangay Merville, Parañaque City (Metro Manila).
White was apprehended for allegedly carrying a bullet at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 last September 17 and was charged in court. His mother accused the police officers of trying to extort P30,000 to P80,000 from them.
The NBI used as evidence a footage showing Cena and Garcia handling White’s luggage at the X-ray machine area and calling his attention to alleged presence of a bullet in a bag that White was carrying.
Mother and stepson, however, refused to shell out money, causing White to be detained for several days at the airport jail.
The NBI probers, in a letter to Prosecutor-General Claro Arellano, recommended that the case undergo preliminary investigation by the Justice department.
The DOJ said that while “corrupt” airport officials may be behind the scheme, “based on the data gathered, the NBI cannot rule that there is a syndicate behind these incidents.”
The DOJ directed the NBI task force to continue with its probe to flush out other airport officials and personnel involved in the alleged extortion.
“This whole investigation is not yet over. The DOJ and NBI will really find out how this particular incident came to be. We cannot say that the whole incident is over,” Caparas said.
Meanwhile, the lawyer of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), who was detained for several days at the Avsegroup office for allegedly carrying a bullet at the airport, is pressing for the resignation of Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado.
I believe it is imperative for President BS Aquino to withdraw all protection, aid and comfort from Honrado, so that this shameless wonder will finally quit.
Window to governance and well-being
In the Internet website, Get Real Philippines (www.getrealphilippines.com), there appeared recently a fine article on NAIA, entitled: “What ails my airport and my country are the same.”
Written by a certain Charles Englund ( a pseudonym?), the article is a must-read. It’s informative, well-researched and finely written.
Out of so many commentaries on NAIA, it’s the most incisive I have read.
I will quote at length its opening:
“It is worth pondering the state of our international gateway airport and what it says about our country. You know what they say about the eyes being windows to a person’s soul? Well, a country’s airport is a window to its governance and well-being. Think about it. The first impression that a businessman or tourist has about a country is from its airport.
Apart from serving a merely functional purpose, an airport is like a calling card or a handshake for a person, or a website for a business or company. People take cues and form their opinions from these first impressions, consciously or not.
“What impression do we get from the airport of Hong Kong, for example? Bustling, modern, energetic– you can almost feel the electricity in the air, with people walking briskly and purposefully through the terminals. You are brought seamlessly from the airport to the center of town via a super-fast express train. True enough, the same airport traits apply to Hong Kong itself.
“Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, recognised the role of the airport in promoting a country’s image. He personally saw to it that anybody arriving in Changi airport got the distinct impression that Singapore stands for cleanliness and order. You can see it in the immaculate and orderly airport the moment you arrive… “
Why NAIA ranks among the worst
He then describes vividly the contrasting experience at NAIA:
“There are valid reasons why NAIA has ranked among the worst airports in the world. The first thing you notice is that you have arrived in an obviously poor country. Now there is nothing wrong with having a limited budget, but poorer countries, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, have airports that are more modern and functional than ours…
“The Manila airport is the equivalent of somebody wearing a sando and tsinelas to a job interview. It says, ‘I am only good enough to wash your car, water your garden and watch your kids.’ And we wonder why our Asian neighbors are snooty and look down on us.
“The minute you land you feel unsafe, feeling that nobody is in charge here…
“The Manila airport, our common international gateway for visitors and returning Filipinos, is an accurate barometer of the state of the Philippines…
“What holds true for the fate of our airport, holds true for the fate of our nation.”
Will Roxas keep Honrado?
Honrado is just one of many administration officials who have clung to their positions, like leeches, in spite of scandal and incompetence, believing that Aquino does not have the guts to fire them.
There is a rumor that Mar Roxas will keep Honrado if he wins the presidency next year. If this happens, this will cause mass hysteria, rioting and vandalism at NAIA.
Maybe then, we will build a modern international gateway in the measure of our worth and reach as a nation.