Don’t expect too much
The Department of Justice created a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) special task force last Wednesday to investigate and “report within 15 days” its findings on the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) issue that has become an embarrassment for the country.
The controversial issue has been questioned and even parodied in foreign media like in the US, Japan, Australia and UK. This should, indeed, make the task of the NBI special task force “special.”
The “special task” of the NBI should not only be limited to a police type of work that will eventually end in cases against the culprits.
The issue should be a rich source of reference for corrective legislative measures, such as amendments to the Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Act signed into a law on May 29, 2013 by President Aquino. It should also result in policy decisions that will introduce changes to airport operations meant to quash this kind of scheme and other related extortion-type scams.
While current arrangements in airports were fashioned to be logical in nature, they have been proven to be weak and entirely inadequate. They were readily exploited by evil minds. They were vulnerable to abuse.
The attention so far given by the President is totally unsatisfactory. The comment given by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya that the issue has been “blown out of proportion, for the number of cases of people caught with bullets in their luggage is less than 0.004 percent of the total number of passengers passing through NAIA” is also totally inept and insensitive that deserves his dismissal, which has actually been long overdue.
Airport personnel also wanted us to believe the incidents were related to superstitious beliefs—amulets or good luck charms—that even the pain of fines and specter of incarceration prescribed by the law could not deter individuals from bringing the bullets to the airport.
This explanation may have some hint of truth to it, considering the folkloric leanings of people, not only of Filipinos. But judging from the complaints of the victims, the explanation offered by several airport personnel does not sound credible anymore.
How can one explain that a 20-year-old American, who travelled to the country for the first time, carried one .22 caliber bullet in his bag and when arrested he decided to be detained for six days and went through the costly and inconvenient process of posting bail, instead of just coughing up P30,000 bribe money for the airport personnel?
The young tourist is American missionary Lane Michael White. At the time of the incident, he was in the company of his father and Filipina stepmother. His father is a pastor of their congregation.
Another story is doing the rounds in social media. In February, a person was apprehended and detained for questioning. Not long after, the arresting airport officers apologized and let him go. This was because the traveler was a priest.
‘Catch me if you can’
Funny, just when the issue has reached public consciousness, the number of tanim-bala incidents has even increased.
This boggles the mind as it goes against conventional wisdom. The only theory one may arrive at is that the scam is orchestrated by a single hidden hand.
But noteworthy is that those responsible are challenging the government to do a catch-me-if-you-can game.
Initial findings revealed the scam was perpetuated by a group involving airport personnel and private individuals. They include porters or plain people whose business was to act as “spotters” of possible victims and “planters” of the supposed evidence.
Victims were supposedly chosen on the basis of how they appeared— “gullible or easily bullied.” Most of the victims were migrant Filipino workers, and the unwary young and elderly travelers.
These perpetrators were allegedly in cahoots with some X-ray scanners and baggage inspectors under the Department of Transportation and Communications-Office for Transportation Security (DOTC-OTS).
In turn, the inspectors in question supposedly alert their “partners” in the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-Avsegroup), who have the powers to make arrests.
The modus now allegedly enlists the help of cab drivers. It’s also unsettling that the extortion scheme has allegedly included “harassment in delaying one’s departure” under the pretext of verifying “supposed questionable documents and purpose of travel.”
Bottom line spin
The Christmas season is now just around the corner. This brings to memory the image of our countrymen eagerly coming home for the traditional Christmas visit as well as foreign tourists coming in for the holidays to experience the country’s battle cry: “More Fun in the Philippines!”
But this scenario can easily be marred depending on “the next move” the government will do to take away the fear sowed by the controversial tanim-bala scheme.
Crucial, too, is “the next move” that investors must take in view of the changing situation in the market place brought about by the global economy, including the possible US rate hike in December.
So far, investors here and abroad have shown mixed reactions, but with most leaning towards the negative side of what these developments may sow in the market. Thus, the timing of the market’s entry is still on “hold.”
The current state of the market makes me recall what I was told of my prospects of finding a very cheap but very good second-hand car, “Don’t expect too much.”
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