‘Bullets in bags’ double in NAIA over past year
MANILA, Philippines — The number of arrests over bullets in bags at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) have more than doubled over the past year. But the airport police aren’t convinced there’s an extortion racket behind it.
In a press briefing at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters on Monday, Supt. Jeanne Panisan, spokesman of the police unit at the airport, the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup), said that for the whole of 2014, the Avsegroup made only 12 apprehensions for illegal possession of ammunition. From January to November 2015, however, the Avsegroup already made 30 apprehensions for the offense.
Asked for the reason behind the sudden leap in numbers, Panisan shared her “impression” that security screeners, from the Office for Transportation Security (OTS), have stepped up their duties since the implementation of the new Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, approved in 2013.
Under the updated law, possession of a single live bullet could merit an P80,000 bail, P200,000 if the suspect was a foreigner, Panisan said.
Panisan dismissed allegations that an airport-based “syndicate” has been operating a “laglag bala” (planting of bullets) extortion racket. “Based on our investigation [before], it was never proven. No one was ever implicated,” Panisan said.
Panisan explained OTS personnel under the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) have been tasked to screen passengers’ baggage. “We [the PNP Avsegroup] have no part in the actual security screening….[The Avsegroup] are only called in if there is a [discovered] violation of procedures, such as the bringing in of bullets, guns, or explosives,” Panisan said.
Based on the testimony and evidence furnished by the OTS security screeners, the Avsegroup apprehends the suspect and files the complaint in the Pasay prosecutor’s office.
From the passengers’ entry into the airport and as they pass through security screenings, only the passengers themselves carry their own baggage, unless they hire porters, according to Panisan. Even after the security officers see something suspicious in the X-ray, and take a screenshot of it, they will still the Avsegroup first before having the bag opened by the passengers themselves. “How can you plant a bullet then?” Panisan said, rhetorically, in Filipino.
Asked why passengers would keep bringing the contraband to the airport, Panisan surmised: “With all due respect to our countrymen, our belief in amulets go deep.”
Panisan, however, clarified that the Avsegroup would only file a criminal complaint against those in possession of a “complete” or live bullet. Empty shells — which are usually the ones turned into amulets — only get confiscated and “documented.”
Panisan advised: “When you travel, be sure you’re the ones who pack your bags. It’s common to borrow bags….but ensure that it is empty.” She suggested that passengers wrap or lock their bags “so there would be no reason to say a bullet had been planted.”
Meanwhile, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesperson, explained that under the Firearms law, “intention [for the ammunition possession] does not matter.”
“[The intention] is not taken into consideration. The mere possession of prohibited item is already a violation of the law. Of course we sympathize with countrymen who get caught, but the law is strict,” Mayor said.
“Of course, if there are those in our group who violated [laws], we will welcome an investigation. Our intention is the same. Our org has been affected. We appeal to public, let us not prejudge. Let us wait for investigation that will be conducted. We want the truth to come out so we will know who is the culprit,” Mayor said.
Mayor, in a phone interview, added that there were legal “remedies” also available to those who were victimized by the supposed extortion scam. “If you think you’re aggrieved, you can file a case against the person who did it,” the police spokesperson said. “Assuming you can identify the person, file a complaint for planting of evidence…or civil damages if you missed your flight.”
But Mayor also reminded: “You must be able to establish sufficient evidence” for such complaints. SFM
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.