A bullet-planting scam at international airports in the Philippines is causing anxiety and outrage among Filipinos.
The scheme allegedly involves airport personnel who drop bullets in the bags of passengers in order to extort money.
Carrying even a single bullet is illegal in the Philippines.
Jofelle Tesorio and Ariel Carlos have the report from Manila, Philippines.
Passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila are being extra careful these days.
They are sealing their luggage with masking tape and plastic to avoid becoming a victim.
Known here as ‘laglag-bala’ the scam allegedly involves airport personnel who plant bullets in the bags of unsuspecting travellers.
Upon inspection, passengers are told that a bullet has been found in their luggage and then they are pressured to pay money to escape criminal charges.
We ask passenger Aling Baby how she feels about it.
“We are afraid of this bullet-planting scheme. We are angry about this,” she says, “I have siblings and relatives in Canada and they are thinking of not going home to the Philippines anymore because of this.”
Another passenger Kenjap Hupanda is alarmed.
He travels around the Philippines every month and twice a year abroad.
It’s very frightening and at the same time it is also very alarming that such issue is being addressed by the media and the government in a very light manner,” he says, “I think that it is a very serious issue that the government should focus and resolve once and for all.”
In recent weeks, several passengers have claimed bullets were planted in their luggage.
The latest victim is Nimfa Fontamillas who was traveling with her family to Singapore, where her grandmother was seeking treatment for cancer.
Fontamillas says all their luggage was locked, but a bullet was later found in the side pocket of her backpack.
Other similar cases involved a 20-year American missionary, a 65-year-old woman, a 33-year-old Japanese traveller and 56-year old domestic worker bound for Hong Kong.
They all denied the charges and said airport personnel attempted to extort between $12-600.
Some of the victims were detained and only released after posting bail…
Public lawyer Arlene Guillen explains that possession of a single bullet is a criminal offense in the Philippines.
“There are actually three penalties for mere possession of an ammunition,” explains Guillen, “If the ammunition is for small arms, the penalty is for imprisonment of six years and 1 day to 8 years.”
She says there is no difference if someone is caught with one bullet or a whole sack. The penalty is the same.
And the bail to get temporary liberty for the offense ranges from 1,600 to 2,500 US dollars.
It’s the reason many passengers are scared of the scandal. “We all know that nobody wants to face charges so for that reason, other people will take advantage of that fear of people,” says lawyer Arlene Guillen.
Filipinos have taken to social media to express outrage over the government’s slow response to the bullet planting.
Amid heavy criticism, President Benigno Aquino has ordered a thorough investigation, including whether a syndicate is behind the scam. At least 40 airport personnel are currently under investigation.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya says such activity will not be tolerated.
“Although we are talking about statistics in the decimal, let me emphasize that a single case of any passenger wrongly charged, extorted upon, victimized by planting, unjustly charged in court, is unjust. It is something that government should put full force and attention to and likewise is a great concern for the state,” he says.
Additional security cameras have been installed at Manila’s international airports and airport personnel are no longer allowed to handle passengers’ baggage.
Many are also calling for lawmakers to revise the law that criminalises possession of a single bullet given that Filipinos have a penchant for carrying a single bullet as amulets…
This year there have been 1,212 cases of bullets found in the luggage of air travellers.
Besides the anxiety and fear it creates, the scam reflects badly on the country, says passenger Kenjap Hupanda.
“I think the major effect of the scam is about the image of the Philippines outside like for tourists. So I am more concerned about people would think about the Philippines than my own safety,” says Hupanda.
Without swift actions, there are fears the scam might make tourists think twice about visiting the Philippines.