It’s too early to conclude that a syndicate is behind the infamous bullet-planting extortion racket at the country’s premier airport, the head of a task force designated to investigate the cases said on Friday.
“It’s too early to say that. Hindi po ako ang nagsabi niyan. Wala pa tayo diyan sa stage na iyan. Masyado pang malayo to make that conclusion [I didn’t say that. We’re not yet on that stage. It’s still too early to make that conclusion],” Manuel Eduarte, head of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) task force, said in a report by GMA News Online.
The bullet-planting incidents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) allegedly involve some airport security personnel putting live ammunition in passengers’ luggage in order to extort money from them.
Eduarte made the statement over a newspaper report (not The Manila Times) quoting an alleged NBI source who allegedly confirmed that a syndicate was indeed behind the unscrupulous scheme victimizing passengers transiting NAIA.
“As far as I and my office [are]concerned, [there are no such]pronouncements [The investigation is only in its] initial stage, so how can I come out with those pronouncements?” he said.
The seven-man NBI task force was created pursuant to a Department Order issued by Justice Secretary Alfredo Caguioa early this week.
It has been given 15 days within which to submit its findings to the Justice department.
The task force is yet to issue any subpoena, the GMA News Online report said.
Eduarte appealed to the public especially those who have been victimized by suspected extortionists to come out and cooperate in the investigation.
“We are calling on all victims to come forward. The NBI Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division is willing to help you, with all the assistance if needed. We will file charges.
This is the best opportunity to come forward,” he said.
The task force can be reached via telephone numbers 63+2-523-3265.
Malacañang also on Friday said the NBI is now looking deeper into the proliferation of alleged ‘bullet-planting’ incidents at NAIA and determine whether there are groups behind the scam.
“The NBI has always proceeded on any investigation with an open mind so all avenues will be considered,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.
Valte noted that investigations are being conducted as the government also undertakes concrete steps in addressing the alleged bullet-planting scam against passengers at NAIA.
She said these measures include the installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) system there and the implementation of no-touch policy among bag inspectors.
Valte at the same time expressed hope that the attention given by the media to the controversy will not affect efforts to promote the country as a tourist destination.
“Unfortunately, these are unattended consequences of the attention that this [issue]has generated and we are hoping that the effects will not be lasting,” she said.
“[We hope it] will not have a long-term effect on what our country is trying to do to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination,” Valte added.
The bullet-planting controversy has caught the attention of the international media, particularly the British Broadcasting Corp, Daily Mail and The Standard in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong Free Press, Fox News, Time magazine and the Singapore Straits Times.
A Japanese television entertainment show parodied the alleged scheme while a video game based on the controversy was made online (See related story).
Marcos, Chiz reject proposal
Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has rejected proposals seeking to decriminalize possession of three bullets or fewer in the country, saying it is the people involved in the controversy that is the problem, not the law.
Marcos said the country’s law against possession of firearms and ammunition does not allow people to plant bullets in luggage of airport passengers and he sees no reason why there is a need to amend that law.
The senator, who is running for Vice President in next year’s elections, was referring to Republic Act (RA) 10591 or the Comprehensive Law on Firearms and Ammunition, which penalizes possession of ammunition.
“No. I don’t support it [amendment to RA 10591) at all. Again, I think the law is fine. The problem is not in the law. The problems are in the people who are doing this and their bosses who are allowing them to do it,” Marcos said.
Sen. Paolo Aquino on Wednesday filed Senate Bill 3000, or Iwas Tanim-Bala Bill, that seeks to decriminalize the acquisition, possession and carriage of three bullets or fewer in the country.
Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who is also running for Vice President, said proposals in Congress to decriminalize the possession of not more than three bullets should be carefully studied as merely decriminalizing the possession of a few bullets does not to fix the real problem, which is the existence of extortion syndicates in airports.
He added that authorities should focus on the root of the problem instead of resorting to Band-aid solutions that do not address the issue of extortion.
Security screeners under the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) held a “unity Mass” and “silent protest at NAIA Terminal 2 on Friday.
According to Edgar Anas, national president of Employees Association of Transport
Security, more than 2,000 OTS personnel nationwide simultaneously heard Mass.
Security screeners also wore pink armbands, which they said symbolizs “love, sympathy and unity.” They added that they will continue wearing the armband until the controversy is resolved.
“We prayed so hard and asked God to intervene in our behalf to resolve the issue of “laglag-bala” for the sake of our families,” screener Norlita Ibanez said.
Reverend Anianas Merida said in his homily that to end the allegations, the workers should ask God to give solutions regarding the issue “to bring back their morale and respect of the public and to all employees working at airports nationwide.”
Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado maintained that there is no need to improve awareness among travelers on what is not allowed to be brought inside the airport.
He also released a letter addressed to all airport employees “to let you know that the airport management is one with its people in this moment of difficulty.”