Naia syndicate confirmed
An extortion syndicate preying mainly on the elderly and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and involving personnel from various state agencies, not only plants bullets in bags of airline passengers but also harasses them by questioning their travel papers, the Inquirer has learned.
Initial findings by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation reveal that some porters identify potential victims of the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scam and accomplices in the security and immigration services take over from them inside the four terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
The activities of the syndicate came to light last month when Gloria Ortinez, 56, a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 26 years, was arrested, detained and charged with carrying bullets in her luggage, despite her tearful denials. Her plight was caught by TV news cameras and went viral on social media.
Amid widespread outrage and concern among domestic and international travelers, the NBI began its investigation on orders of Justice Secretary
Alfredo Benjamin Caguiao to “act with dispatch” and report within 15 days, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
Narrating the activities of the extortion ring, the NBI source, who spoke to the Inquirer on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to speak to the media, said: “Each unit has an assigned task and roles, its members are recruited by longtime workers in the four airport terminals.”
“Apart from the now very known bullet-planting extortion, the racket also covers supposed questionable documents and purpose of travel of the passenger,” he said.
“The syndicate is composed of various airport workers such as immigration personnel, airport police, X-ray scanners, baggage inspectors and porters, the source said.
“The usual targets are OFWs who are easily duped and the elderly who easily get nervous,” he said. “The group had a profile of their victims who they see as gullible and could easily be bullied.”
The source explained that in the case of tanim-bala, X-ray scanners and baggage inspectors under the Department of Transportation and Communications-Office for Transportation Security (DOTC-OTS) have no police powers and are not authorized by law to make an arrest and need the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-Avsegroup) to step in, make the arrest and file the appropriate charges.
“OTS personnel or X-ray scanners as well as baggage inspectors cannot make an arrest,” he said. “An airport police should be summoned to make a believable scam.”
While the role of the porter is “to spot a target and sometimes a planter of supposed evidence whichever is convenient for possible airport violations,” the source said.
NBI agents are looking at records as far as several years ago to determine and identify members of the syndicate.
“They are now cross-referencing the incident report and airport workers on duty and even those who are in the immediate vicinity of the area and make them explain their presence,” the source said.
100 bullets seized
The source said that based on the records furnished by airport officials, close to 100 rounds of ammunitions of various calibers had been seized by OTS personnel since January of this year.
The source added that seized evidence like bullets and slugs would be subjected to forensic tests, including fingerprints to determine its origin.
Stories of victims of harassment of departing passengers, mostly unaccompanied, center on their alleged lack of proof of sufficient reason to travel.
“They will ask for documents, such as letters of invitations, just to delay the passenger and impress on the unsuspecting victim that she or he had been profiled. Most of the victims were seafarers who usually carry money and almost always have various destinations. They will ask for a visa despite the explanation of some seafarers that visa will be issued by their employer in the next destination,” the source said.
According to the source, sometimes the intention was simply just to delay the passenger, especially those who were rushing to board their flights.
“These airport workers will accept anything from the harassed passengers who sometimes were even grateful to be allowed to leave,” the source said.
NBI task force
The justice department spokesperson, Emmanuel Caparas, told reporters Wednesday that an NBI special task force had been formed to look into the airport scams.
The task force will “undertake an investigation on all incidents of the tanim-bala scam at
Naia to similarly undertake a case buildup on the possible criminal and/or administrative liabilities of all individuals and agencies involved, whether public or private,” according to a department order that Caguioa signed on Monday and released Wednesday.
The NBI agents assigned to the task force are Manuel Antonio Eduarte, chief; Manuel Fayre Jr., executive officer; Dennis Asistio, team leader; Joselito Guillen, assistant team leader; and Aubren Cosidon, Rodelio Velez and Marvin Villena, members.
Caguioa ordered the task force to coordinate with “all relevant government agencies” to accomplish their job.
At least two alleged victims of tanim-bala have sought the help of the NBI: American missionary Lane Michael White and Maria Paz Triaz.
Lane, who was detained after arriving from the United States, was charged with illegal possession of ammunition but was freed on bail. Triaz was allowed to leave for Singapore after signing a waiver stating that the bullet found in her bag was an amulet. With a report from Jerome Aning
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