WE have reached a point where it is no longer an expression of sarcasm or mean-spiritedness to openly question the grasp of reality of officials of the Aquino Administration.
According to reports that began circulating early Thursday morning, it took less than 24 hours for the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to determine with certainty what Filipinos, in particular OFWs and their families, have known and feared for years: That an organized, extensive criminal syndicate involving individuals from several agencies including the Manila International Airport Authority, the Office of Transport Security, the Bureau of Immigration, the Aviation Security Group of the Philippine National Police, and even taxi drivers and other service providers is systematically extorting innocent passengers at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The “tanim-bala,” or bullet-planting modus, it is now obvious, is just the most visible part of the extortion racket, and only attracted widespread public attention and fury thanks to a couple of brave victims who refused to go along with it. Other methods, which are primarily targeted at people the perpetrators identify as likely to be easily frightened into paying a bribe – OFWs, elderly passengers, and passengers traveling alone – involve questioning the passenger’s purpose of travel or their travel and visa documents, with amounts demanded from the unwitting victims in exchange for letting them go on their way ranging up to several thousand pesos.
The “tanim-bala” extortion racket seems to have been particularly effective, partly because it is a habit of some Filipinos to carry a bullet as an amulet, and partly because the law that addresses the possession of ammunition is unnecessarily harsh and inflexible. The bullet-planting crime is not a new development; a quick bit of online research reveals that foreign visitors to the Philippines have shared warnings about it since at least 2012.
Incredibly dishonest, or just incredibly dumb?
Yet based on the response by President BS Aquino 3rd and officials such as former DOTC and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, current DOTC chief Joseph Emilio Abaya, and MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado, the only people among the 100 million-plus population of the Philippines who are not aware there is a large-scale criminal enterprise operating at NAIA are the handful of stewards of Aquino’s farcical and imaginary “Daang Matuwid or Straight Path.” According to Abaya, the issue is being “blown out of proportion.” According to Roxas, the supposed extortion racket is simply a conspiracy (one that apparently involves old ladies and American missionaries) to discredit him and the Liberal Party ahead of next year’s elections.
This madness must stop, and it must stop now. We recommend three steps that can be taken immediately to resolve this embarrassing man-made crisis. First, to the traveling public: It should be more than obvious by now that carrying a bullet as a good luck charm is foolish and dangerous. Do not, under any circumstances, keep a bullet in your possession; after all, an amulet really isn’t working in your favor if it causes you to fall prey to a criminal syndicate.
Second, the NBI must be allowed to conduct a swift, thorough investigation without interference; if it is necessary to enlist the help of an outside agency such as the FBI or Interpol to ensure the NBI can carry out its work, then do so.
And third, the management and all staff of the airport and associated agencies who have any contact with passengers or their belongings should be immediately suspended. Those who are found to have a part in the criminal conspiracy should be arrested and charged; those who are found to be innocent can be returned to their duties, and paid a bonus from the forfeited salaries of their guilty co-workers for having been put under suspicion.