A lawmaker on Thursday called for a top-to-bottom revamp of the officials and personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in light of the so-called "laglag bala" extortion racket victimizing tourists and OFWs.
Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the total overhaul should be done as NAIA has become a “source of disgrace and national embarrassment” because of the “laglag bala” scheme.
"The NAIA has become the biggest source of embarrassment for this administration, not only here in the Philippines and but in the entire world," said Nograles, chairman of the House committee on labor. "A top-to-bottom revamp is now necessary even just to prove that the government is taking this issue very seriously."
Nograles said the revamp should start with Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Jose Angel Honrado, who he said "has contributed nothing but shame and disgrace to the government."
The "laglag bala" scheme involved the discreet planting of bullets by unscrupulous airport personnel to airline passengers' bags. When the passenger got arrested, they would be asked to fork over money in exchange for their freedom.
Recently, 56-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Gloria Ortinez was arrested for allegedly carrying a bullet inside her hand-carry bag.
Ortinez, who has been working as a domestic helper for two decades, was apprehended before boarding her flight to Hong Kong on Oct. 25. She has denied the allegation, saying the bullet did not belong to her.
Although the Pasay City Prosecutors Office has ordered Ortinez’s release, she now faces the danger of losing her job in Hong Kong after the incident.
Nograles said he was appalled Ortinez’s apprehension not only because of the airport personnel’s supposed insensitivity, but also because of Honrado’s defense of the arrest.
“Instead exerting effort to get into the bottom of these rising complaints of evidence planting at the NAIA, administrator Honrado quickly dismissed these allegations as false and untruthful,” he said.
The lawmaker said Ortinez was clearly a victim of the “laglag bala” scheme since even the fiscal noticed that the supposed bullet that was seized from her was different from the bullet that was submitted to them as evidence.
In a separate statement, Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian urged the MIAA to follow the example of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) in redesigning their personnel's uniform.
The CAAP is set to do away with pockets for its employees' uniforms to discourage mischief among its ranks following incidents of pilferage.
CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio has said that removing the uniforms’ pockets would also make it more difficult for airport personnel to bring contraband items like bullets that could be used to extort money from passengers.
"CAAP's decision to change the design of its employees' uniform is laudable as a proactive approach to ensuring passengers' safety and security against its own scheming employees. Its example must definitely be followed by the MIAA, but more importantly, it must emulate CAAP's eagerness to initiate changes, no matter how small," said Gatchalian, senior vice chair of the House committee on tourism. —KBK, GMA News