Special prosecutors will be stationed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to conduct on-the-spot inquest proceedings particularly in cases of alleged illegal possession of ammunition by travelers transiting the country’s premier gateway.
Department of Justice spokesman Emmanuel Caparas said at least one prosecutor has been assigned since last week at the NAIA as part of measures put in place by the DOJ and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to curb an alleged bullet-planting (tanim-bala or laglag-bala) extortion scheme at the airport.
The assignment of special prosecutors followed a move by the Public Attorney’s Office, which offered immediate legal assistance to victims of the alleged extortion scheme.
“Through this, we are trying to avoid incidents where passengers are not allowed to board their flight because may suspicion na may dala silang bala [that they carry bullets],” Caparas said. “In the inquest proceedings, the prosecutor will find out the circumstances how the bullet was found and determine if the traveler was really a carrier or the bullet was placed by accident or deliberately planted,” he added in Filipino.
Caparas said the purpose of the on-the-spot inquest was not to determine probable cause but merely to make an initial assessment of the case. After the assessment, the traveler could be released and allowed to board his or her flight.
But in case the assessment leads to the filing of a formal complaint, the traveler will have to face the charge once he returns to the country.
The DOJ spokesman said more meetings would be held to further streamline the plan.
Caparas, moreover, said a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) task force will submit on Monday its findings on the alleged extortion scheme.
He added that the task force had actually submitted a preliminary report but it remains “inconclusive.”
Boiden Ballalo, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) who was apprehended at NAIA Terminal 1 for possessing a .22 caliber bullet, was allowed to leave for Taiwan after the case filed against him for illegal possession of ammunition was dismissed.
Ballalo was intercepted by Office of Transport Security screeners after an X-ray image showed a bullet in his wallet.
According to Rose Ballalo, wife of the OFW, her husband finally left Manila onboard a China Airlines flight for Taipei. She said if not for the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) intervention and the help from the Volunteers Crime Against Corruption, Boiden might have been charged.
Also on Friday, two more passengers were apprehended for possessing bullets. The Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup) did not identify the passengers, but said they are under questioning.
According to the Avsegroup director, Chief Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas, a passenger headed for Hong Kong was caught at NAIA Terminal 3 when a screener noticed something resembling a bullet inside her bag. The bag later yielded a 5.56 bullet which the woman said was her anting-anting (amulet).
The other was a male passenger bound for Puerto Princesa who was intercepted at NAIA Terminal 4. The bullet was found in his handcarried bag.