Since January of this year, 30 people have allegedly been caught carrying live bullets at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila.
According to the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSeG) these numbers were from January to November records. This scam known as “tanim-bala” or “laglag-bala” is allegedly used by airport personnel to bribe from unsuspecting victims.
According to Philippine law, it is illegal for anyone to possess or purchase firearms and ammunition without the necessary license. In addition, firearms law in the country is “mala prohibita” meaning the intention of the person carrying the ammunition does not matter. Strict guidelines were also enforced after the 9/incident. A live bullet can explode in a pressurized cabin.
The penalty for one bullet is 12 years imprisonment. This is the same penalty for anyone found with a truckload of bullets.
Filipinos cried foul when news about a 56-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) bound to Hong Kong was caught with a bullet for a carbine rifle was allegedly found in her hand-carried bag.
Gloria Ortinez has been an OFW for more than 20 years. She flew in from Laoag before she was accused and detained for illegal possession of ammunition. The image of her handcuffed and hopeless went viral as
Filipinos ran to social media to ask the government for an investigation.
The government earlier downplayed the incident but later ordered an investigation. Additional closed circuits television (CCTV) cameras were also placed in the premises for additional monitoring.
Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) spokesperson Dave de Castro asked the citizens not to jump into conclusions, as investigations are underway. 40 people from the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) are also under probe and had their access passes revoked.
De Castro also said that a small number of the alleged victims of laglag-bala scam admit that they did indeed carry bullets by mistake as “anting-anting“.
On the other hand, some of the victims already came out saying they paid the bribe to avoid the hassle and not miss their flight.
Lawmakers and politicians jumped on the issue calling it shameful for the people behind the scam to target OFW and foreign tourist.
Sarangani Representative and vice-chairperson of the committee on overseas workers’ welfare at the House of Representatives Manny Pacquiao offered lawyers for the victims of the scam.
Unfortunately, the scam already reached international news agencies like Time magazine and BBC making this incident an international embarrassment.
If you plan to go home this season here are some tips to protect yourself from the scam:
Luggage and other travel bags
Use hard case luggage with heavy-duty locks.
Avoid bags with an external pocket as much as possible.
Place heavy-duty locks on all external pockets.
Wrap the entire bag in plastic or shrink-wraps. This service is already available at airport terminals for an additional cost.
Avoid wearing loose clothes or jackets that can easily be planted with small items like bullets.
Do not accept to bring any items as favour. If the item is coming from a relative or friend, cautiously and carefully check the items inside. Do not just bring any packaged item in the airport if you are not sure what is inside.
Porters and other people at the airport.
Do not let porters carry your things for you. Maybe you can do this once the issue is resolved.
Do not let anyone touch or get near your bags.
Always keep an eye on your luggage even while walking through the metal detectors.
If you are found to have a bullet in your luggage or bag DO NOT let anyone open the luggage without the presence of witnesses, a lawyer and the airport official’s supervisor.
Ask the Security Screening Officer to see the monitor of the x-ray machine to prove the findings.
DO NOT TOUCH your luggage and the bullet so it will not have your fingerprints.
Ask authorities to perform a fingerprint test on the retrieved bullet.
You have the right to remain silent under section 12 of the Philippine Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution. No one should demand you to admit to anything.
In addition, admission without the presence of a lawyer is inadmissible in court.
If an official asks you for a bribe, they are already violated the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act RA 3019.
If the fingerprint test proves your innocence then file a case against the airport officials including damages for lost time and inconvenience.
Additionally, officials do not have the legal right to detain you without probably cause. Arbitrary detention is a crime equivalent to illegal detention or kidnapping. If officials detain you, file for a writ of habeas corpus or a complaint of arbitrary detention.
According to an unnamed whistleblower, this scam has been around for 20 years. Spotters are hired to choose victims who are usually those with connecting flights to local or international areas.
It is embarrassing to go through all these efforts because you feel threatened in your airport. However, while this scam is not yet over, it is best to stay vigilant and protect yourself and your family as much as you can.
Special thanks to Extended Account for the main image.