Naia cops asked US missionary to pay P30K
If they don’t shell out P30,000 for the dropping of a case for possession of a bullet against her stepson, the price would rise to P80,000 if the matter reaches police headquarters, according to the stepmother of an American missionary, who allegedly fell prey to the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
Eloisa Zoleta and her stepson, Lane Michael White, recounted to the Senate Thursday their experience at Naia in September after security officials allegedly found a bullet in his bag.
Police officers told them to pay P30,000 for dropping the case against White, even as they pressed them to admit to the owning the bullet.
But the pair refused to settle the matter and insisted on White’s innocence.
At the time, the family was on the way to Coron, Palawan province, to scout for land on which to build a church.
Zoleta said a bullet was found after White’s bag passed through the X-ray machine several times.
Nothing was detected when the bag was first checked, but after screening officer Maria Elma Cena allegedly put her hand inside the flap of White’s bag, the bullet was discovered in the next X-ray scan, she said.
After they were informed of the discovery, Zoleta asked the screening officers if she should have their flights to Coron moved. They told her it would be an easy matter, a remark that she found baffling if there really had been a violation of the law.
“The screening officers said, ‘That’s OK. It would be easy,’” she said, adding that Cena even told her that the flight wasn’t even until 12:45 p.m.
“I was thinking that if it was really the law and there was one ammo found in the luggage, shouldn’t their answer be that we wouldn’t be able to go to Coron because they would jail my son? Shouldn’t that be the answer if they were implementing it?” she said.
White was subsequently brought to the office of the Philippine National Police, while Zoleta tried to take care of their tickets.
Police officer Junio
She said a PNP officer she identified only as “PNP officer Junio” asked her about what had happened. After explaining, Junio told her about paying for the dropping of the case, she said.
“Usually we let the possession of such items pass. We just say it’s an amulet. If we negotiate that here, it (will cost you) P30,000. But if it’s passed on to headquarters, it’s P80,000,” Zoleta recalled the police officer as saying.
Preacher with no salary
He also asked about her husband’s job and she informed him he was a preacher who did not receive a salary. The officer also asked about White’s job and she told him he had resigned from his job.
Their conversation ended then because Zoleta’s brother called her up, and she never saw the police officer again.
White also said a police officer, Rolando Clarin, had told him he could pay P30,000 or face the prospect of jail. But he said the bullet was not his and he did not have the amount.
Zoleta said the officers had tried to convince them to own up to the bullet possession.
She said another officer had appealed to her to help White, as he was a foreigner and his life could be ruined.
And as they were about to head for White’s inquest, Zoleta said Cena came up to her and told her that she could have just admitted to carrying the bullet since she was pregnant, and there was a humanitarian law.
“I responded to her, ‘ma’am, why would I admit it?’ I know that’s the easier way out to say it’s ours and I’m pregnant, but I told her we’re Christians. We can’t lie about a small thing just to find an easy way out,” she said.
Zoleta also said the screening officers lacked professionalism and courtesy when dealing with them.
She also recounted that she started taking videos, upon her brother’s advice, after the bullet was found. Her camera was not hidden and was near her armpit, she said.
When the screening officers learned that she had taken videos, they seemed surprised she said. She also recalled that Clarin had warned her not to take videos, and that he would fine her if she did so.
Zoleta and White were among the air passengers invited to the Senate, which is looking into allegations that a syndicate planting bullets in passengers’ bags to extort money from them was operating at Naia.
Also present at the hearing was overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Gloria Ortinez, who is now unsure of whether she still had a job waiting for her in Hong Kong.
Ortinez had been detained and faced a complaint after a bullet was supposedly found in her bag. The case against her was dismissed, but there is no certainty yet if her employer would take her back.
Ortinez also recalled that after the bullet was found, the X-ray personnel brought her to a room that had men in white uniform.
Made to sign document
She said she was asked to sign a document and she initially refused, she was told she would be handcuffed if she would not follow the order. She was not made to read the document, but she eventually signed it, she said.
She also said the officers had tried to convince her to admit that she owned the bullet.
Senators took to task aviation officials for “finger-pointing” when asked to provide them the closed-circuit TV (CCTV) footage of the inspection of White’s bag.
The footage was necessary for White’s case. The National Bureau of Investigation requested copies, but it has yet to get these.
Rolando Recomono, chief of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS), said the CCTV footage was not under his office’s jurisdiction and was with the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).
But MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado said it was with the OTS.
“Which jurisdiction does it fall under? Janitorial offices?” asked Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the blue ribbon committee.
“How will the victims get justice now?” Guingona asked.
Honrado eventually said MIAA had custody of CCTV footage taken at the airport as it was operating the cameras. He also said the OTS had a copy of the footage.
MIAA has not provided copies to the NBI as the bureau made the request to the OTS, he said.
“This is a clear case of finger-pointing,” Guingona said.
In another development, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano castigated officials for not getting the side of the air passenger, who complained of being victimized by the supposed bullet-planting scheme.
Zoleta said nobody from the OTS or the aviation offices got in touch with her, and Cayetano pointed to the promise of transportation officials that they would investigate the allegations.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said he believed the complainants were not guilty and had no intent to violate the law.
But Abaya also said the investigations were ongoing. The probe has been turned over to the Aviation Security Group, which then coordinates with the prosecutor. This is the judicial process, he said.
Cayetano said the case should not enter the judicial process until the side of the passengers, who claim they fell prey to the bullet-planting scheme, was heard.
“If they weren’t even asked and they complained, so at that level, there was no due process,” he said.
If the passengers had not gone to the Senate, the officials would not have heard their side, he added.
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.