Amid accusations that airport personnel are demanding up to P80,000 and even sex in an extortion racket using the planting of bullets in passenger bags, the government is pursuing suspicions that politics may be playing a role in the “tanim-bala” racket.
A special team of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is looking into this possibility after receiving information that the incidents may be part of a plot to sabotage or destabilize the administration supposedly in relation to next year’s general elections.
Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman Emmanuel Caparas said the NBI probe is not confined to the alleged operations of a tanim-bala syndicate, but also covers the sabotage or destabilization angle.
“Yes, that is one of the angles being pursued by the NBI,” Caparas confirmed to The STAR yesterday.
He did not give further details so as not to jeopardize the ongoing probe. He also did not confirm if there is proof gathered by investigators to bolster this angle.
An American missionary and an overseas Filipino worker testified at the Senate the other day that they were victims of tanim-bala.
But the NBI is pursuing suspicions that political rivals of the Aquino administration could be behind the incidents supposedly to discredit and elicit public distrust against the administration and its presidential bet, former interior and local governments secretary Manuel Roxas II.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, whose resignation is being demanded by various sectors over problems besetting the airport and other aspects of transportation, has said he does not believe there is a tanim-bala syndicate at the airport.
Abaya, president of the administration Liberal Party, and airport general manager Jose Angel Honrado have refused to resign over the scandal. Malacañang has also rejected calls for their replacement.
Caparas said the DOJ has tapped prosecutors at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to attend to bullet possession incidents.
Caparas told a press conference a prosecutor has been assigned at the airport since last week to conduct “instant inquest” assessment that would allow passengers caught with bullets in their baggage to catch their flights.
He said more prosecutors would be deployed at the airport next week upon request of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).
“The stationing of the fiscal there is one way for now to be able to shorten the time of going to the fiscal, filing a complaint and determining whether or not a case should be filed at the moment (because) the passenger is not able to leave,” Caparas said.
“We are trying to avoid incidents where passengers are not allowed to take their flights just because of these incidents… It affects the lives of people unnecessarily and unfairly,” he said.
Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa and Prosecutor General Claro Arellano instructed prosecutors to expedite the conduct of inquest proceedings, weigh the evidence and consider the profile of the respondent, Caparas said.
“The prosecutor can make a call, all points available to him, talk to the passenger, after all that, if the passenger is harmless, (the prosecutor) can make the call using better judgment,” Caparas said.
He explained that if the bullet were found in the luggage or bag of an elderly person who has been traveling to and from the country for 30 years, it would be initially improbable to consider criminal liability.
But if the bullet or implement were found taped or stitched in some secret pockets of a bag or luggage, then it would be another case, Caparas said.
“There are procedures in law, there are legal provisions that allow us to take certain measure to protect the rights of the general public, whether you are a passenger or not, and it also protects the rights of those who are looking after security of our airports,” he added.
Malacañang said the MIAA is implementing the hands off policy in handling baggage and personal belongings of passengers.
“On another matter, the MIAA is now going to implement a ‘last look’ bin that will enable passengers to take a last look, essentially, at their luggage and to dispose off any—should there be any inadvertent insertions, if you may call it that, before they undergo screening,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Miriam seeks heavier penalties
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her part, proposed an increase in the penalty against persons found guilty of planting bullets as evidence.
Santiago is seeking to amend Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act to increase the prison term for persons planting bullets as evidence from the current six to 12 years to a range of 12 to 20 years.
The penalty would be imposed on persons found guilty of inserting, placing or attaching a bullet, a firearm or parts of either, with the intent of incriminating another.
“The government must send a clear message to these airport syndicates that it will not tolerate these criminal activities and will prosecute those who plant evidence with as much zeal as it pursues those who smuggle firearms and ammunition,” Santiago said.
She said that increasing the prison term for the crime would be more effective than the proposals to decriminalize possession of not more than three bullets.
Under the decriminalization proposal, Santiago argued the scam would persist simply by increasing the number of ammunition planted on the victims.
Charged and dismissed
This developed as two Taiwan-bound OFWs were detained by security personnel at the NAIA Terminal 1 for alleged possession of bullets.
One of them, Biiden Ballalo, was able to depart for Taiwan yesterday after the Pasay City prosecutor dismissed the case with the help of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
The PAO has so far helped 20 alleged bullet-planting victims. Complaints against five of the agency’s clients have been dismissed for lack of intent to possess the bullet and use it for malevolent purposes.
Pasay City prosecutors also dismissed the charges against Gerardo Navarra for illegal possession of ammunition for lack of probable cause.
Navarra, who was supposed to fetch a relative from the airport and insisted that the bullet was not his, was arrested Thursday night at the NAIA after a bullet was found inside his bag.
Pasay City Prosecutor Nolasco Fernandez Jr. said authorities failed to establish the malevolent intent to possess and use the bullet for a criminal purpose.
Two more passengers with separate flights were apprehended for bullets found in their luggage.
The two passengers whose names were not immediately available were brought to the Philippine National Police – Aviation Security Group for questioning.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), on the other hand, has embarked on a massive information campaign to prevent migrant Filipino workers from falling prey to the supposed bullet-planting scheme.
OWWA chief Rebecca Calzado directed accredited employment agencies to provide pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) to advise OFWs against carrying prohibited items at the airport including bullets. With Mayen Jaymalin, Rudy Santos, Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica