By: Ernie Reyes, InterAksyon.com | Maeanne Los Banos, News5
November 13, 2015 2:32 AM
MANILA – After accusing media of blowing the issue out of proportion, Transportation and Communications Secretary Emilio Abaya Jr. on Thursday admitted during the Senate probe that there were government lapses in handling the “tanim-bala” fiasco where innocent Filipinos had become victims.
“Obviously, there were some lapses, at pagkukulang ng ating pamahalaan,” Abaya told Senator Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the scam.
Aside from the Guingona panel, the scam is jointly being investigated by Senate Committee on Public Services chaired by Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmena III based on the various resolutions filed by Senators Ralph Recto, Cynthia Villar, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile.
In a twist of the situation, Abaya also expressed belief that those present during the inquiry, including an American missionary, are not guilty of the crime of Illegal Possession of Ammunitions.
“From the very start, nagsalita ako at naniniwala ako na walang kasalanan si Nanay Gloria, and iba pang bisita natin dito,” Abaya said referring to Gloria Ortinez who was supposed to board a plane bound for Hong Kong to work there in early part of the month.
Ople demands public apology
Also, former Labor Undersecretary Susan “Toots” Ople demanded that the government make a public apology about the fiasco, since Ortinez and other OFWs were vvictimized by “Tanim’Bala” Gang because the “government made a mistake.”
“Mayroon po bang pabaon na humihingi ng dispensa sa isang OFW na halata naman inosente? Wala po bang magpapabaon ng sorry sa inyo kay Nanay Gloria dahil hindi niya alam kung may trabaho pa siya o wala, at hindi naman niya kagagawan ito,” Ople said.
“Next week busy na lahat at sasamahan namin si Nanay Gloria sa Hong Kong upang makiusap sa kanyang employer para magtrabaho, wala pa akong naririnig sa ating kasamahan sa Executive Branch kung may regrets man lang,” Ople said.
This prompted Guingona to asked Abaya to do something in favor of Ortinez since she does not know if she can still work in Hong Kong since she missed her flight due to the scam.
“I suppose you want something written Ms Ople,” Guingona asked Ople.
“I think even if she is not asking for it, lahat nalathala na eh, and in the course of her career, she needs something to show that the government made a mistake and because she is completely innocent,” Ople said.
With this, Abaya said he will write a formal letter to Ortinez’s employer and maybe talk to them over the phone.
“I do agree, I could write a letter right now, draft it. She can bring it with her and personally make a call to her employer, if I could get the number of her employer, and whatever Nanay Gloria requests me to do, I’ll do it,” Abaya said.
Aside from Ortinez, among the victims who attended the hearing were Rufina Cruz, Rowena Otic and Lane Michael White, the American Christian missionary in the Philippines and stepson of a Filipina.
White’s family told the Senate hearing the details of how he was victimized by the bullet-planting syndicate when he arrived with his family at NAIA-3 last Sept. 13. They said they were missionaries and were supposed to proceed to Coron, Palawan on Sept. 17 but this did not happen because a bullet was found in White’s luggage.
But Lane’s stepmother Eloisa Zoleta insisted that the actions of the OTS personnel were very doubtful.
She told the Senate panel that the OTS personnel, whom she identified as Marvin Garcia and Maria Elma Cena, repeatedly put White’s luggage inside the X-ray machine and conveyor.
While this was going on, Zoleta was taking a video of the inspection using her cell phone. When this was noticed by investigator SPO2 Rolando Clarin, she was told to delete the video and threatened that she will be penalized if she did not do so. She said Clarin also forced her stepson to admit to the crime but Lane did not do so.
Then a police officer by the name of Junio approached her, telling her that they can drop the case for P30,000 but when it reaches the headquarters, it goes up to P80,000.
Zoleta quoted Cena as advicing her that before Lane goes through inquest proceedings, she should have admitted to the crime since she was pregnant and there was a humanitarian law.
They filed a complaint against White at the Pasay Prosecutors Office but the family filed a complaint with the NBI.
Unfortunately, the NBI cannot conduct an investigation because the OTS refused to furnish them a copy of the CCTV footage.
Both the OTS and the MIAA were pointing at each other on who has jurisdiction for releasing the footage.
This finger-pointing drew the ire of Guingona. And in the end, MIAA general manager Jose Angel Honrado finally admitted that they had the authority.
TG scolds AVSECOM
Meanwhile, Guingona scolded the Aviation Security Group (AVSECOM) for not showing sympathy to OFWs, whom we call as “modern heroes” for keeping our economy floating through their remittances.
“To AVSECOM, you must have more empathy and sympathy to our OFWs. Lalo-lalong sa AVSECO make an orientation and seminar for you personnel on the rights of OFWs, inform their rights at kung walang abogado, kukuha kayo sa PAO,” Guingona said.
Guingona also asked Chief Supt. Pablo Francisco Balagtas, director of the PNP-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSEGROUP) that there would be no more OFWs being abused on their rights “assuming they carry bullets in their luggages.
“Hindi na tayo makakaranas ng sitwasyon na mayroong nahulihan at walang abogado at napabayaan nang walang abogado at pinupuwersang pinapipirmahan ng kung ano-anong papel,” Guingona said which Balagtas answered in affirmative.
With this, Guingona also ordered Abaya to make a study on the situation, form a committee that will decide on issues of bullets found inside passengers’ luggages without circumventing the law and violation their rights under the Miranda Doctrine.
“Lastly, Sec. Abaya to agree to study the matter by forming a committee that will finalize and decide na hindi na magpa-file ng kaso upang hindi maperwisyo ang mga OFWs na clearly na walang intent to possess or intent to use the bullets,” Guingona said.
“You can see all these victims, you can tell easily that they don’t have the intent to possess, assuming that they have the bullets in their luggages,” Guingona added.
For his part, Abaya affirmed his commitment to make a study and submit the same to the Senate within a week.
“The situation and the people are demanding fast solutions to this problem. You agreed the matter and submit to the committee. Since people want quick solutions, people are afraid, people go to the airport in fear, and we need a deadline,” Guingona asked.
“Within the week, your Honor,” Abaya said.
Abuse of the law
Meanwhile, Atty. Persida V. Rueda-Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), said that since there was no private offended party on the illegal possession of ammunitions, the Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM) could outrightly dismissed the case under the law.
“Nagtataka po ako bakit nagwa-wonder ang AVSECOM kung ididismis nila outright na baka sila mademanda, dito po sa kaso ng possession ay walang private offended party,” Acosta said.
“Kaya kung minsan naabuso ang batas na ito, walang private complainant ang pulis mismo, ang affiant ang pulis mismo. Bakit po sila matatakot mag-dismiss kaagad?” she added.
Nonetheless, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. was surprised that the name “Marcos” was mentioned by airport personnel who investigated Ortinez at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2.
During the Senate inquiry into the bullet-planting scam, Ortinez narrated that when the investigators, whom she described as wearing polo barong, learned that she was from Ilocos Norte, the province of the Marcoses, one of them blurted, “Ay Marcos!,” which made her more nervous.
“(Tinatanong nila ako) kung taga saan daw po ako… sabi ko taga Paoay, Ilocos Norte po ako. ‘Ay Marcos!,’ sabi nila po. Ako po ay tumahimik,” Ortinez said.
When Marcos asked Ortinez if the NAIA personnel mentioned his name, Ortinez replied: “Opo sir, kaya nga natakot po ako sir.”
The Hong Kong-bound Ortinez was prevented from leaving the country last October 25 after staff from the Office of Transportation Security allegedly found a carbine bullet in her hand carry bag at the NAIA-2.
She vehemently denied the allegation saying she was fully aware that carrying such an item was strictly prohibited.
MIAA chief did nothing
Marcos also expressed disappointment over the pronouncement made by Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado admitted he had done nothing in the case of Ortinez.
When grilled by Marcos on whether he had taken any action or did he look into the case of Ortinez, Honrado said: “No, your honor I did not. I did not because I’m not in the loop on the filing of the case.”
Honrado also admitted that he did not even speak to Ortinez after he learned of the case. He said while he could not remember when he learned about the case, he recalled that the police told him she underwent inquest proceeding.