MANILA – (UPDATE 4:55 P.M) President Benigno Aquino III Monday directed the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to present within the week a full report on its investigation into the “laglag bala” (bullet frame-up) controversy that has caused jitters among foreign travelers and migrant workers with the arrest of over a dozen people at the premiere airport.
While the Palace meeting was ongoing, migrant solidarity groups announced they are launching a “Bawas Padala” and “Laglag Boto” campaign where the OFW sector – one of those hardest hit by the alleged extortionate operations – will cut back on remittances while campaigning against ruling party candidates in protest over the government’s failure to stop what is believed to be a syndicate.
At this point, however, Mr. Aquino is not yet fully convinced that a syndicate is behind the alleged extortionate operations, asserting that only the “correct identification of the problem” can lead to the “correct identification of the solution,” said Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
Lacierda briefed reporters after Aquino met with officials led by DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, whose office has supervision over all airports.
During the meeting, the President was given a run-down of all the incidents that have given rise to the theory that a “syndicate” is planting ammunition on innocent people’s luggage, and then demanding bribes in exchange for avoiding jail terms and disruption to their travel.
The cases have drawn the ire of migrant worker solidarity groups, lawmakers, and even some of the 16 agencies operating at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), who worried that all of them will be seen as extortionists.
Review procedures, cases; validate assumptions
According to Lacierda, the President told DOTC to make a full review of all the cases of apprehensions for violation of the law against travelers bearing ammunition – both those where the parties strongly denied carrying anything, and those where they admitted doing so – and submit a report to him.
He wanted all procedures involved in all incidents reviewed.
The President first wants to “validate all assumptions” that have arisen with regard to the cases, especially the conclusion that in most cases, the travelers concerned were the victims of a frame-up and extortion.
The President is firm, said Lacierda, that implementation of the law on the carrying of ammunition – which does not distinguish between carrying one live bullet or a truckload of bullets – cannot be relaxed just to calm down the public uproar.
“Because we only have… What media is reporting is only a slew. . . . That’s why the President wants to cast a wide net. Let’s look at the entire picture. Let’s correctly identify the problem. For example [that] Japanese tourist; it was first claimed the bullet [found on him] was “planted.” But it turns out he admitted bringing it [as souvenir].”
Lacierda stressed, “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 make sure—he wants to verify and validate all the assumptions that have been put out in media.”
The Palace official added that the Executive was “just being thorough, and we want a thorough look at the whole situation so that proper solutions can be given and these are long-term solutions that can be put in place.”
Nonetheless, Lacierda denied that Malacannang had taken the problem for granted, as many groups had complained earlier.
While they respected the right of netizens and the general public to gripe about the matter, Lacierda said the government has to look at the entire situation and consider all angles.
Asked if the government is ready to accept that there’s really a modus operandi involving the “planting” of ammunition in traveler’s things, Lacierda replied, “these are assumptions that we need to validate. That’s why we need to assume—we need to look at all the assumptions that were put out.”
He stressed that whatever measures are drawn up to respond to the crisis should be those “that in the long run ensure the safety of each and every passenger and guarantee their security as they use the terminals.”
Migrant networks plan protests
The Palace meeting convened, even as migrant solidarity groups announced they are launching a “Bawas Padala” and “Laglag Boto” campaign where the OFW sector – one of those hardest hit by the alleged extortionate operations – will cut back on remittances while campaigning against ruling party candidates in protest over the failure to stop the syndicate.
Called to Malacanang Palace at the ongoing hearing was Secretary Abaya, as well as airport officials and the controversial Office of Transportation Security (OTS), which has direct supervision over the x-ray screeners and inspectors in the center of the suspected scam. The President was also said to be meeting separately with the PNP Aviation Security Group in a bid to get to the bottom of the matter.
In the latest suspected case of “laglag bala,” a 65-year-old grandmother from Cavite enroute to Singapore to watch her grandson play football in a competition was held after x-ray scanners at the final security check showed her shoulder bag as carrying a “live” .9mm bullet.
The woman became hysterical, threw her bag from the inspection area, and told the screeners, “you people are not just good at planting; you’re magicians too!”
Group to stage massive protests
Migrant rights group Migrante-Middle East Monday said it is initiating a campaign versus ‘laglag bala’, an extortion modus operandi of planting bullets in passengers bag and belongings, then threatening the victim by filing a case. an undetermined number of alleged victims have preferred to come across to avoid a jail term and disruptions to their travel plans.
One of the most heart-breaking cases was a 56-year-old woman who had been a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 30 years. On her last visit to Manila, she was stopped at the final security check when her luggage “showed” a bullet. OFW advocate and anti-human trafficking activist Susan Ople earllier urged authorities to drop the case against the hapless woman, saying the disruption to her travel and her employment seriously jeopardizes her family’s future.
Under Philippine laws, possession of a single live bullet draws a stiff jail term and/or fine.
‘We, OFWs and our families, should act decisively versus ‘laglag bala’ that victimizes our fellow OFWs, thus we need to launch a campaign that will pressure the government to put an end into this extortion scheme at NAIA airports,’ said Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona on Monday.
Monterona said that it is the responsibility and duty of airport authorities and the Aquino administration to ensure the safety and security of passengers.
‘It seems that the extortionist gangs were never cowed as it continue to victimize innocent passengers. And the MIAA chief could not stop the ‘laglag bala’ syndicate,’ Monterona averred.
He said Migrante affiliates in the Middle East and allied organizations are discussing details of a ‘Laglag padala’, ‘Bawas padala’, and ‘Laglag boto’ campaign.
‘We are finalizing a date for the ‘laglag padala’ or ‘bawas padala’ which is the equivalent of ‘Zero Remittance’ holiday call.
‘A remittance holiday symbolizes our collective fight versus ‘laglag bala’ and the Aquino govt inaction,’ Monterona declared.
For the nth time, Monterona said the OFWs could now effectively employ ‘laglag padala’ or ‘bawas padala’ as a powerful tool as it directly impact the most protected industry run by the government itself – the lucrative export labor program that course through billion dollars of remittances yearly by peddling cheap Filipino labor abroad.
A ‘Zero Remittance Day’ campaign was staged by OFWs worldwide last August 28, 2015 versus the BOC’s imposition of random inspection and additional tax/duty on OFWs balikbayan box.
Monterona added the second component of its campaign versus ‘laglag bala’ is dubbed ‘laglag boto’.
‘Laglag boto’ is a ‘no vote’ campaign versus PNoy’s ruling party candidates, according to Monterona.
“Mar Roxas vowed to continue PNoy’s ‘tuwid na daan’, which is actually a ‘baluktot na pamamahala’. We don’t want another six years of it,” Monterona declared.
Migrante sought the immediate firing of MIAA general manager Angel Honrado, to give way to an impartial investigation, but InterAksyon.com sources have noted that under the new regime since the OTS was created, the MIAA has not had any authority over the 15 or so agencies, including OTS, at the airport. The OTS is directly under the DOTC.