Bullet found inside woman’s locked and sealed handbag at NAIA – report
MANILA, Philippines — Apart from looking into the “tanim-bala (bullet-planting)” claims, the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) it seems has a bigger problem to resolve: mass hysteria.
This, after a bullet was found Sunday in the literally locked and sealed handbag of a 65-year-old woman, who still insisted the ammunition was not hers and was puzzled over how it got inside.
Her shoulder bag was among other passenger luggage, all sealed in plastic, that went on Sunday through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals’ x-ray scanners.
Following reports of “tanim-bala” or “laglag-bala” incidents at the country’s premier airport, flyers have gone to lengths of sealing their luggage in cellophane or plastic and adding more padlocks.
The Singapore-bound Nimfa Fontamillas, of Cavite City, was at the NAIA terminal 1 at around 6 a.m. Sunday for her Tiger Airways flight when her shoulder bag went through the final screening x-ray scanner manned by Department of Transportation and Communications- Office for Transportation Security (DOTC-OTS) personnel.
Her shoulder bag was flagged after DOTC-OTS security screening officers detected what resembled a bullet inside. Fontamillas refused to have her bag opened and inspected unless there were witnesses, including her lawyer.
At around 12 noon, Fontamillas’ lawyer Clint Estandarte arrived and opened her shoulder bag, which was sealed by a combination lock and had its outside pocket zipper stitched together.
Initially, all the contents of the bag were taken out and revealed no contraband. But when the apparently empty bag was run through the x-ray scanner, what appeared to be a bullet was still displayed on the monitor.
When the stitches on the zipper were removed and unzipped by Estandarte, the outside pocket yielded a 9mm bullet.
The elderly woman was aghast and insisted that she would never bring a bullet while her lawyer, who opened the bag, was rendered speechless. She said that she could not have possibly brought a bullet when she and her family did not have guns.
Fontamillas’ daughter Menchu Tan, who was with her for their trip to Singapore, told reporters that they were going there to watch her 11-year-old son’s football game for the Singa Cup.
She confided that they had gone to the extent of sealing all their luggage in plastic, stitching up baggage zippers, and putting more padlocks because they wanted to avoid being victimized by so-called “tanim-bala” or “laglag-bala” syndicates.
The 65-year-old woman was stopped from boarding her flight for Singapore and was invited for questioning by the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup).
Fontamillas is facing a charge of illegal possession of ammunition, a violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.
MIAA, which was tasked to look into the “tanim-bala” allegations, was put into focus because of the frequency of bullet interceptions at the NAIA which the agency oversees.
Jesus Gordon Descanzo, the MIAA assistant general manager for security for emergency and security services, assured the public that the airport authority has helped craft measures to keep passengers safe and their baggage intact.
“As far as I know when the first issue of ‘laglag-bala’ came up, there were already measures introduced like inspection of (DOTC-OTS) screeners prior to posting and the no-touch policy wherein the owner will be the one to open and inspect the contents of the luggage,” Descanzo told the Inquirer in a text message.
He said that the investigation into the alleged “laglag-bala” incidents has been going on.
But Descanzo pointed out that no proof has emerged that some DOTC-OTS personnel have been planting bullets in passengers’ baggage.
“As of now, these are all allegations. It has started to become the norm for passengers to cry ‘laglag-bala’ when a bullet is found in their luggage,” he said.
A source, who requested anonymity for not having been authorized to speak on the matter, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that most passengers whose baggage yielded one or two bullets admitted to owning them either as charms for good luck or as souvenirs from the firing range.
“There was a 68-year-old woman stopped from boarding a domestic flight at the NAIA terminal 3 for having a .45-caliber bullet in her handbag last week. She readily admitted that it was hers because she needed it as protection against hexes,” the source said.
He added that Japanese tourist Kazunobu Sakamoto, who was arrested for having two 9mm bullets in his baggage confessed to owning the ammunition. The foreigner had said that he kept the bullets as his souvenirs from his recent trip to a firing range.
In the case of Gloria Ortinez, a 56-year-old Hong Kong overseas worker, a rifle bullet wrapped in red cloth was found in her handbag on October 25 at the initial screening checkpoint of the NAIA terminal 2.
“A picture was taken of the handbag when it went through the x-ray scanner and what resembled a bullet was detected. Ortinez was informed of the suspected contraband and her handbag was inspected in front of her. She was the one who opened her bag for the inspection and witnessed the process,” the source pointed out. But even then, the overseas worker said that she did not know how the bullet got inside her bag and claimed she was a victim of “laglag-bala.”
According to Descanzo, the DOTC-OTS personnel man the x-ray scanners and once they detect a bullet or a firearm in the passenger’s baggage, they alert members of the Avsegroup. The owner of the luggage is then asked to open his or her bag for inspection in the passengers’ full view.
He further explained the Avsegroup is bound by law to investigate and charge any person, of whatever age, who is in illegal possession of ammunition as long as it has the complete bullet components of the slug, shell, primer, and powder. SFM
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