‘Tanim-bala’ back? Woman, 75, stopped at NAIA for bullet in bag
MANILA — The Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup) is looking into the case of a US-bound passenger who cried extortion after being stopped before noon Tuesday, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) because of a bullet found in her handbag.
The incident gave rise to speculation that the so-called “tanim-bala (bullet-planting) scheme has returned at the country’s premier airport.
The Avsegroup director, Chief Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas, said he had ordered the NAIA-based police unit to investigate the allegation made by 75-year-old Salvacion Cortabista of Antipolo City. He also sought her help in identifying the person who allegedly asked for P50,000.
Balagtas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “While we are waiting for her (Cortabista) to file a formal complaint, I have asked our NCR (National Capital Region) office to validate the claim and check the persons who were present when she was stopped at the final security screening checkpoint.”
Cortabista and her 78-year-old husband, Esteban, were supposed to board a South Korea-bound plane to catch a connecting flight to the US where they were to receive medical treatment. The couple were travelling together with their niece, Fei Balagot.
Based on a report from the Avsegroup-NCR, Cortabista was stopped around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the final security checkpoint of NAIA Terminal 1 after a .38-caliber bullet was found in the pocket of her handbag. She was taken into police custody and a complaint for illegal possession of ammunition was filed against her in the Pasay City prosecutor’s office.
Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva later ordered Cortabista released for further investigation.
In a radio interview Wednesday morning, Cortabista said she “overheard” one of the airport security personnel asking her niece for P50,000.
“I asked my niece to hurry up because she had a family waiting for her. She was about two meters away when I saw someone chasing after her,” she said. “That is just what I overheard and my niece said she did not have that kind of money.”
She surmised that it was about money based on the hand signals they used and her niece’s response. “I only overheard ‘50.’ I really don’t know what it’s about. My niece is already in the US so she cannot attest to that.”
Cortabista maintained she did not know how a bullet got into her handbag, although she said she had a relative who has been into shooting. “I haven’t seen an actual gun. Maybe on TV or the movies,” she added.
The Avsegroup-NCR chief, Senior Supt. Adolfo Samala, said it was only on Wednesday that he heard about Cortabista’s allegation of an extortion attempt.
“She never mentioned anything about that while she was here (on Tuesday). Even her lawyers — she had two from the PAO (Public Attorney’s Office) — didn’t say anything,” Samala told the Inquirer. “If she had mentioned that, I would have investigated the matter right away and called the attention of the concerned unit.” SFM
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