MY husband and I are visiting the Philippines this December, as many kababayans plan to do as well, but the excitement of this year’s trip is dampened by the “laglag bala” scam at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.
This issue has become an international concern, having been reported by international media, and with the United Nations issuing a warning to its staff about how they may be victimized by some unscrupulous people at the NAIA, who would allegedly “plant” live bullet in passengers’ baggage. The bullet would be found during security inspection, and then money would be extorted from passengers who rather pay a few dollars rather than miss their flights or they would be detained for days for a crime they did not do.
My own children, who get their news via mainstream media and online news sources, already warned us as well about it. This has also been a hot topic among email exchanges and On social media among those who are traveling to Manila for either business or pleasure. The big question resonates a plea for help, a longing for empowerment.
“What should we do if this happens to us?”
Such cry for help is a result of the Philippine government’s initial dismissive and defensive response to the problem. Some officials say in news reports that this problem is but a small percentage of the total sheer volume of passengers who have used the NAIA to travel, others blame it on the passengers who bring “bala” for anting-anting (talisman) believed to give protection to the traveler.
While both may be true in some cases, the fact remains that there are those who have been victimized, and were asked to pay money “under the table” so this case would “go away”. A good family friend (a Filipina who is now a legal resident of the US) who was on a wheelchair when she traveled from Manila to LAX last September became a victim. Confused, scared and intimidated, but definitely NOT guilty of bringing the “bala” that was planted in her luggage, she decided to give the $12 (Php500) that was asked of her, and then exposed this scam when she arrived in LA via social media. She was the first one to bring this problem to the attention of mainstream and social media. She is pressing charges/complaint to help put an end to this fiasco.
But the scam did not stop. In fact, more people have been victimized — foreigners, overseas Filipino workers, the elderly. One foreigner who is a young American missionary chose NOT to pay the money that was asked of him (Php 30,000), and he was detained for more than four days. He has sought legal representation to file charges against those airport personnel for trying to extort money from him and for violating airport inspection protocol (recorded on video).
Thankfully, there are many well meaning lawyers who are now offering pro bono services for travelers who may get caught in this situation.
In case you or your loved ones become one of the unfortunate ones, here are the things to remember (from ABS-CBN News):
It is OK to react but STAY CALM. FIRMLY DENY prior knowledge of the bullet.
SEEK LEGAL COUNSEL from the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO) through hotlines 929-9436 or 02-929-9436. [Call your own attorney if you have one] NEVER TOUCH THE BULLET to avoid leaving your fingerprint on it.
DO NOT OPEN YOUR BAG without your lawyer, witnesses, and the airport police or the supervisor of the security personnel.
INFORM RELATIVES AND FRIENDS of your situation.
Have your fingerprint samples taken ONLY IN FRONT OF YOUR LAWYER AND POLICE OFFICIALS.
IF your fingerprint is NOT FOUND on the bullet, CHARGES MAY BE FILED against the airport personnel. You will also be entitled to financial compensation for the disturbance and lost time. Airport authorities will also be LIABLE TO REBOOK YOUR FLIGHT.
SHARE THIS INFORMATION around. Good luck! Sana mabigyan na ng solusyon ng gobyerno ang problemang ito para maging totoo muli na “IT IS MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!”
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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos