MANILA – Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto called on the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) to lead the crackdown on the so-called “Maleta Gang” syndicate preying travelers at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
The senator also urged other non-NAIA based agencies to conduct a probe against the perpetrators who reportedly steal from the passengers of the country’s premier airport.
Recto made the call following the arrest of four NAIA baggage handlers who allegedly stole jewelry owned by the wife of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday, August 9.
“It took a foreign VIP to lodge a complaint before authorities finally took action against a continuing crime routinely posted by its victims, our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), in social media,” the senator said in a statement released the following day.
If needed, Recto said that “intelligence fund” should be used, pointing that “it will be a good money worth spending.”
He remarked the country would have been “spared of this embarrassing incident” if only the authorities had done it a long time ago.
He also claimed that money should not be a problem in transforming NAIA’s image as an “honest institution” from its bad reputation inflicted by “a few bad eggs working there.”
According to the senator, the government “was already collecting P9.3 billion from NAIA passengers and airlines, netting P5.25 billion,” in 2014.
He said that a third of NAIA’s P9.3 billion gross income came from the P550 international terminal fee and the P200 domestic terminal fee paid by passengers, which reached P3.5 billion in the same year.
“Sa ganitong kita, ano ba naman ang gastos para sa dagdag na CCTV at pulis sa baggage routes (With this kind of income, what does hinder them from installing additional CCTV and assigning police at baggage routes),” Recto added.
He also noted that P598 million in Airport Security Fees was also collected from NAIA users in 2014.
“Nagbabayad ka pa ng airport security fee, tapos ang gamit mo hindi secure. So para saan pa ang binayaran mo para sa iyong seguridad at ng iyong gamit (You have paid the security fee and yet your belongings are not secured. So, what’s the purpose of that payment intended to secure your things)?” he pointed out.
He lamented how controversies surrounding NAIA cause “stigma” and negate the Philippines’ tourism industry.
“’Yang Maleta Gang sa NAIA ang negative effect niyan sa turismo ay tulad din ng damage na ginawa ng Maute group (The Maleta Gang at NAIA gets the same negative effect in our tourism, just like the damage brought by Maute group),” the senator said.
He added that “a serious airport cleanup drive” should also include all other major airports in the country.
“Maganda nga beaches natin, smiling nga tayo (Our beaches are beautiful, we are always smiling) but we’re having a hard time living down the stigma that our airport is either they plant a bullet in your bag or they divest it of its contents,” he said, in reference to the so-called bullet-planting scheme where airport personnels allegedly plant bullets in passengers’ luggage and would later ask money in exchange for their release and record-free passports.