‘Bala’ outrage makes presence felt in Cebu
CEBU CITY—Airport security screeners at Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) here are feeling the brunt of a public outrage over a supposed extortion racket at airports nationwide involving the slipping of bullets into passengers’ bags.
Workers of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) are being ridiculed and becoming targets of jokes about the so-called “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme.
To show that the workers no longer find the jokes funny, they started wearing pink armbands since Nov. 10, like what their counterparts at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) did.
Their leaders said they would continue wearing the armbands until cases of exortion have been solved and the innocent are cleared.
Rustico Sonalisa, OTS team leader, said his group sympathizes with innocent airport workers who have to endure jokes and tirades from passengers.
Sonalisa admitted that MCIA workers, too, are being ridiculed even though there is no tanim-bala case in Cebu.
Jemar Nietes, screening security office supervisor at MCIA, said the silent protest was meant to ask the public not to judge all of them harshly because they have nothing to do with the extortion scam.
“They would sometimes ask us to show them our hands to check if we didn’t carry any bullet. It might be a joke but it hurts us. It demoralizes us, especially that we have been honest and dedicated in our job,” said Nietes.
The comments, he added, usually come from passengers returning to Manila.
Porters at MCIA are also complaining that passengers no longer hire them for fear they are involved in tanim-bala.
“They no longer want us to touch their bags or even get near to them. They say that we might insert bullets in their baggage,” said porter Alan Martin.
Nietes said wearing the armbands was MCIA workers’ way of encouraging airport workers at Naia to continue doing their jobs.
“Because of fear, these X-ray operators might choose to overlook any suspicious baggage so as not to be dragged into the controversy. This is dangerous,” said Nietes.
He said there is no tanim-bala case in Cebu although airport authorities seize bullets from passengers who use these as amulets.
Some passengers, he added, had been caught carrying guns.
One of them is an American tourist who was caught with an unlicensed .45-cal. pistol and ammunition inside a box that he wanted to check in.
Timothy Lee Lindsey, from California, admitted owning the gun.
Lindsey, 66 and a tugboat captain, came from Leyte to visit his girlfriend. He was detained at the Lapu-Lapu police office pending filing of charges.
A Taiwanese tourist was also caught with a submachine pistol, a 9-mm pistol and ammunition on Nov. 5. These were found in his baggage when he tried to check in.
In Davao City, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Southern Mindanao said it is ready to provide legal assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who fall prey to the extortion scheme.
Eduardo Bellido, OWWA director for Southern Mindanao, said OWWA employees are stationed at the F. Bangoy International Airport in Davao to help OFWs who would be victimized by extortionists. With a report by Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao