Avsegroup dismisses extortion racket report
THE NUMBER of arrests of airline travelers allegedly possessing bullets in their bags has more than doubled over the past year, but the officials of the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup) aren’t convinced that there’s an extortion racket going on, only a more efficient detection system put in place.
In a press briefing at the Philippine National Police headquarters Monday Supt. Jeanne Panisan said that for the whole of 2014, the Avsegroup made only 12 apprehensions for illegal possession of ammunition. From January to November 2015, however, she said Avsegroup had already made 30 arrests for the offense.
Asked to explain, the Avsegroup spokesperson shared her “impression” that security screeners, from the Office for Transportation Security (OTS), had stepped up their duties since the implementation of the new Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, which was approved in 2013.
Under the updated law, possession of a single live bullet could merit an P80,000 bail, or P200,000 if the carrier is a foreigner, Panisan said.
She dismissed allegations that an airport-based “syndicate” operated a “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) extortion racket. “Based on our investigation [before], it was never proven. No one was ever implicated,” Panisan said.
Panisan explained that the OTS personnel under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC)—not Avsegroup—conducted the screening of baggage.
“We have no part in the actual security screening,” she said.
Avsegroup personnel are only called in if there is a 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.
Panisan pointed out that from the entry into the airport terminal buildings and as they pass through security screenings, only the passengers themselves carry their own suitcases and bags, unless they hire porters.
Even after the security officers see something suspicious in the X-ray, and take a screen shot of it, they will call the Avsegroup, but the bag will only be opened by the passengers themselves, she said. “How can you plant a bullet then?”
Asked why passengers 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 only filed 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.”
“When you travel, be sure you pack your bags yourself. It’s common to borrow bags … but ensure that it is empty.”
Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, the PNP spokesperson, said the intention to carry ammunition was not a consideration in the investigation.
“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,” he said.
“We appeal to the public, let us not prejudge. Let us wait for an investigation that will be conducted. We want the truth to come out so we will know who is the culprit,” Mayor said.
“If you think you’re aggrieved, you can file a case against the person who did it,” he said. “Assuming you can identify the person, file a complaint for planting of evidence … or civil damages if your flight had been delayed.”
But Mayor also reminded: “You must be able to establish sufficient evidence” for such complaints.
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