Naia boss dodges airport bullet controversy
“WHY should I resign?”
This was the reaction of Manila International Airport Authority (Miaa) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, who is at the center of the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) extortion firestorm, when asked in a telephone interview with the Inquirer about calls in the Senate and the House of Representatives for his head to roll.
Honrado said he respected the opinion of lawmakers calling for his resignation, but added: “The President who appointed me is not asking me to step down. If he does, then I won’t stay a second longer in this post.”
“Besides, I never back down from a good fight,” Honrado told the Inquirer.
“The one who should be investigating the matter is the agency concerned,” he said, referring to the Department of Transportation and Communications’ Office of Transport Security (DOTC-OTS).
“They are the ones who should be resolving this issue,” he added.
Moving to defuse public outrage, President Aquino on Monday gathered his airport and security officials in Malacañang to finally tackle the tanim-bala scam after getting a lot of flak for his administration’s perceived “I-don’t-care” attitude on an alleged nefarious scam preying on airline travelers.
But there was nothing about the resignation of the head of the Miaa, an agency under the DOTC, which itself has been engulfed in allegations of corruption and inefficiency.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was sparse with details on the meeting and brushed aside queries on Mr. Aquino’s response to calls from lawmakers and the public to fire Honrado, 64, a former security aide of his mother, then President Corazon Aquino.
“The President has been briefed and has given further instructions in order to refine the efforts underway. The DOTC as the lead agency will be updating the public,” Lacierda said.
He said the DOTC would present “data” on the incidents involving the planted bullet scam “to ensure the riding public of their safety in using the terminals.”
Aside from Honrado, the officials present during the meeting were Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez, Cabinet Secretary Jose Almendras, Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya and Aviation Security Group Chief Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas.
Malacañang remained adamant that incidents involving the bullet scam were not alarming and were far and few in between.
Asked if the President was concerned, Lacierda maintained that these were “all allegations,” noting that at least one incident, involving a Japanese tourist, turned out to be real as the passenger admitted to having forgotten the bullets in his hand carried luggage after coming from a shooting range.
“The President’s attitude toward a problem would be the correct identification of the problem (which) leads to the correct identification of the solution. So we are casting a wide net on the data, on the process and areas for improvements,” Lacierda said.
‘Only a slew’
But he would not say if the President remained skeptical of media reports on this extortion racket for insisting on gathering data first before taking any action.
Lacierda said the President could not act on the controversy because he only had the “slew” of incidents reported in media. Calls to relax rules were misplaced, Lacierda said. Authorities have laws to enforce, brushing aside reports that some of the victims were overseas workers and the elderly who obviously had no reason to carry bullets.
Lacierda said that neither Mr. Aquino nor his officials had downplayed media reports that the bullets were being planted on unsuspecting passengers and that victims were asked to pay bribes or go to jail for the false charge.
“We are not being detached. In fact, the fact that the President called for a meeting shows his concern for what is happening there and he wants to verify and validate all the assumptions that have been put out in media. We are just being thorough,” Lacierda said.
Last week, Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that only a handful among the thousands of passengers using the airport had been caught with bullets in their hand-carried luggage. Coloma said that the issue should be discussed in the proper context.
There has been many vile comments thrown against the President and his spokespersons over the past few weeks for their seeming lack of concern on these cases, but Lacierda said he understood the netizens’ concerns.
In the same vein, Lacierda said the President’s supporters were also free to air their view against his critics on social media.
At Naia Terminal 3, authorities Monday began installing new closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras at the departure security screening checkpoints.
They said the CCTV cameras would also be set up at the departure screening checkpoints of the other terminals.
The Inquirer also learned Monday that Naia officials were compiling information from January to this month of all intercepted firearms, ammunition, explosives and deadly weapons.
The data being gathered will contain the details of which DOTC-OTS personnel, X-ray operators and baggage inspectors, intercepted the deadly weapon and who filed the case.
It will likewise include the status of the cases in court or if the passengers were allowed to take his or her flight. The official explained that it was to get at the root of the whole issue, find out if the scheme really exists and to resolve it.
Based on records from the DOTC-OTS, there were 88 ammunition interceptions from travelers from January to October this year at Naia.
Of the number, 48 were live bullets which meant they contained the components of ammunition under the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act: slug, primer, shell and powder.
Also confiscated were 21 empty shells; 4 dead ammunition; and 15 bullets used as amulets for good luck or protection against hexes.
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