06 Nov Tanim-Bala or Laglag-Bala Airport Issue Reveals a Disturbing Pinoy Cultural Trend that May Ripple to Mindanao
By now everyone knows about the so-called Laglag-Bala airport issue so that it is becoming a common conversation piece on social media, on the internet, in mainstream media, and during family dinners at home. What many are just starting to realize is that it reveals a disturbing Filipino cultural trend in whose ripples will be felt as far as Mindanao.
The Laglag-Bala issue reveals that Filipinos are already enmeshed in a culture of corruption and this cultural behavior has become an accepted part of our being Filipino. What is painful is that it has divided Filipinos into two segments of society: Those who are part of, or who passively accept the Laglag-Bala issue as part of our Filipino behavior, and those who want to put an end to this scam because it is an outright evil act, but who are powerless to stop it.
To study, analyze, and pick apart this issue, one only needs to use pure logic. Consider first the revelations of mainstream media and social media that only started last September 17 on who have been victimized by the “airport bullet planting” scam:
- Twenty-year-old American missionary Lane Michael White boarding a flight to Palawan.
- Filipino balikbayan Rhed Austria de Guzman boarding a flight to Los Angeles.
- A teenage student bound for South Korea to join a singing competition.
- 56-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Gloria Ortinez boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
- Kazunobu Sakamoto, a Japanese national boarding a flight back to Japan.
- 68-year-old Revelina Combis boarding a flight to Boracay.
- 65-year old Nimfa Fontamillas boarding a flight to Singapore.
And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Just last week the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AvSeG) revealed that beginning in 2012 there have been 4,419 Laglag-Bala recorded cases up to August of this year.
The basic modus operandi for the bullet planting scam was further revealed in recent news items of an existing Laglag-Bala Extortion Syndicate that has been operating at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) for years now. The extortion syndicate involved taxi drivers, airport porters, a few civilian “spotters” disguised as travelers, and personnel from the DOTC-Office of Transportation Security (DOTC-OTS) and PNP-AvSeG. Once a victim has been targeted, the usual move is always for airport security manning an X-ray machine to “spot” a bullet or two inside the luggage (checked-in or hand carried) of the victim. PNP-AvSeG personnel are then summoned to make the arrest for “illegal possession of ammunition.” During the arrest someone whispers that if the passenger hands out some money they can just forget everything and board their flight. For others, a “kangaroo court” scene is created wherein the passenger is brought to a police station or a holding cell in the airport and made to pay “bail.”
Naturally, there has been large-scale public outrage over this scam and many are calling on the government to take steps to put the perpetrators behind bars and to completely destroy the syndicate.
Citizens and netizens alike are already pointing out that with the reputation of NAIA as the 6th worst airport in the world, the Laglag-Bala issue has only worsened not only NAIA’s reputation but also has put a black taint on our Filipino culture as well. CNN, BBC, VOA News, and other foreign news agencies and even the United Nations are already making headlines on the issue and have been issuing travel advisories and warnings for their travelers even with connecting flights to NAIA.
Naturally, knowing our illustrious and reputation-conscious government, steps have been taken on this issue:
- According to the PNP and DOTC-OTS, there have been 90 independent investigations on this issue since 2014. Six (yes, please do count, “6”) OTS personnel have so far been suspended but no arrests or cases have been filed.
- Instead of conducting a person-to-person live investigation on all airport personnel, lawmakers are instead going headhunting by calling for the resignation of the top heads of NAIA. (How convenient for the syndicate to have such a scapegoat while they can continue their scam operations).
- According to the Office of the President and other cabinet members, the number of Laglag-Bala victims “has been drawn out of proportion” and that most of these cases are actual smuggling attempts (Why would a smuggler go through an airport just to smuggle one or two bullets?)
- Interior Secretary “Mar” Roxas recently made a public statement that “It is the ‘bullet carrier’ who needs to take responsibility rather than airport security personnel.”
Again, let us repeat that given all the discussion above it is quite obvious that there is truly a cultural division between those committing or are passive to the crime and those who want to stop it, but cannot do so. And this issue has ripples that extend as far as Mindanao and even Cagayan de Oro. For instance, not all the victims are always foreigners or Filipino OFW’s. Recently a businessman traveling to Cagayan de Oro was held briefly but later released after a bullet was found in his luggage. He was released when he called for his lawyer. No money was involved in the release. Another concern is the more than 14,000 OFW’s from Cagayan de Oro alone that travel back and forth to other countries, not counting the thousands of other OFW’s from Region 10 provinces. In reality, if this issue is not addressed soon, it’s only a matter of time before Kagay-anons are themselves victimized in this scam.
On a proud note, local officials and agency heads have made it clear that so far no Laglag-Bala incidents have been reported at the Laguindingan Airport. But then again, it’s NAIA we have to watch out for, don’t we?
On a conclusive note, we offer our dear readers both practical and legal tips against the Laglag-Bala Airport Scam.
Try to invest in hard-case luggage and avoid bags that have external pockets
Hard-case luggage use heavy-duty padlocks that are hard to tamper with. For other bags, secure the zippers with heavy-duty padlocks and use duct tape along the length of the zipper up to the lock. Sign the duct tape covers; tampering will be immediately spotted for these signed duct tape covers.
Use airport cling wrap services
All airports have a cling wrap service that you pay a small fee for. This is most useful for bags with external pockets or hand-carried bags since the tightly wrapped plastic makes sticking in a bullet almost impossible.
If airport security claims to have seen a bullet in the X-ray
Don’t allow any personnel to just open your bags. They can only be opened in the presence of your lawyer, the personnel’s supervisor, and third-party witnesses of your choice. Witnesses can also be other travelers and bystanders. Only the owner of the bag/s may open or unlock the luggage, not airport personnel. Allow the airport official to find the alleged bullet, and if found, you have the right to have it fingerprinted. A bullet without your fingerprints will shed reasonable doubt on the possession of the said item.
You have the right to remain silent
Under Section 12 of the Philippine Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution, it clearly states that you have the right to remain silent. Should airport officials demand that you admit to owning the bullet found in your luggage, you can stand by your right to remain silent and that any admission you might be forced to make without the presence of a lawyer is inadmissible in court. You also have the right to ask for a screenshot from the X-ray machine of the alleged bullet in your luggage.
Know your other legal rights
Everyone must remember that no police officer or even aviation security personnel can set bail, as only judges are empowered by law to set bail. If the corrupt official extorts money for your release, never pay anything. Should airport officials detain you arbitrarily, request that you have the right to file for a petition for a writ of habeas corpus or a complaint of arbitrary detention. Habeas corpus is a legal proceeding to obtain liberty since authorities have neither probable cause nor basis to hold you. Arbitrary detention is a crime equivalent to illegal detention, also known as kidnapping.
On a more personal level, one should always be vigilant and alert. Never leave your luggage anywhere even if going to the toilet. Never lose sight of your luggage and always place them in front of you. Never let strangers handle your luggage even momentarily and never accept bags from strangers for you to carry either.
It also wouldn’t hurt if you know the phone numbers of the popular television media outlets or if you have friends in the media just in case you need to call them.
Note: Every now and then aboutcagayandeoro.com and its parent company LogicBase Interactive LLC comes out with an opinion column to address a specific issue that affects the whole city as well as the region. The opinions, ideas, and even facts stated in the column however, do not necessarily reflect the views of the website and the company.