Hard to swallow: NAIA ‘mafia’ seen in latest scandal
Senators on Thursday called on officials of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) to carry out a deep probe to dismantle any “mafia” operating inside the country’s premier international gateway, following the latest scandal involving an alleged theft committed by one of its security personnel.
Senators Grace Poe and Joel Villanueva referred to the “shameful” incident wherein an employee of the Office of the Transportation Security (OTS) was caught on video in the act of swallowing US dollar bills that she allegedly stole from a Chinese traveler.
Sen. JV Ejercito said the act was “unforgiveable.”
“What we have seen from the (closed-circuit television, or CCTV footage) is not the whole story. There are reports that the OTS employee was directed to do it to conceal the crime, which shows that she has cohorts who are fellow insiders,” said Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services.
The latest scandal to rock Naia came just months after her committee’s investigation of other irregularities at the airport, such as allegations of corruption among airport personnel in the human trafficking of Filipinos traveling abroad and the special treatment supposedly accorded to wealthy passengers.
“Those who violate the law must be punished at once,” Poe said, calling the incident “infuriating and shameful.” She also urged the OTS to conduct an internal cleansing of its ranks, “properly vet applicants and reinterview existing employees.”
Villanueva said the “sad and shameful” scandal called for retraining of airport personnel. “We need to find out if the suspect is in cahoots with other employees so we can dismantle the mafia that is operating inside the airport,” he said. “(The transportation department) should also likewise be more discerning in its choice of new workers to ensure (it not) hiring scalawags.”
Ejercito, the Senate public services committee vice chair, said the scandal was “unforgiveable because the airport gives the first and last impression of a country.” It was the third highly publicized scandal this year where an airport staff had been caught allegedly stealing money from passengers while on the job.
Earlier this year, a Naia screening personnel was caught red-handed stealing money from a Thai passenger. Five days later, another officer was arrested for stealing a Chinese tourist’s watch.
Authorities confirmed that a female OTS officer, who has not yet been publicly identified, swallowed $300 worth of bills that she stole from a departing Chinese passenger on Sept. 8.
A CCTV footage showed the officer inspecting the passenger’s shoulder bag while the passenger was passing through an X-ray scanner and then she suddenly walked away.
The officer manning the X-ray machine was then seen handing the screening officer a bottle of water which the latter drank to swallow down the bills. After this, the supervisor approached and talked to her as she was “obviously almost choking in her effort to swallow the dollar bills while using her hanky to cover her mouth,” according to the report by airport officials.
Gagging on money
A video showing her gagging on the money has gone viral.
The report also indicated that the officer had an “intent to gain,” while the X-ray officer and the supervisor were found to be in collusion.
OTS administrator Undersecretary Mao Aplasca on Wednesday said they had already suspended and filed an administrative case against the screening officer.
They are also coordinating with the police in assisting the passenger if the latter decides to file a criminal case against the officer, Aplasca added
Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista expressed frustration over the incident, as he was recently trying to attract foreign investors in operating and maintaining the airport.
Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Bob Zozobrado also called on the Department of Tourism to take decisive action on thieving airport staff and to be stricter in hiring employees.