Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya on Friday said they are already investigating the reports on the supposed extortion racket at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) involving the discreet planting of bullets in the bags of unsuspecting travellers.
"Iniimbestigahan namin ['yung reports]," Abaya said in an interview on QRT. "Dahil kung mayroon man ito dapat hindi mangyari, dapat itigil dahil mali naman talaga gawin ito."
He vowed that airport personnel who will be found engaged in such illegal activity will be penalized.
"Kung mayroon mang nagtatanim diyan ay sisiguraduhin namin ititigil ito at kung may kasalanan man ay kakasuhan namin 'yung involved na personnel dito,” Abaya said.
Reports of such scheme being perpetrated by unscrupulous airport staff have resulted in calls from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) — usual targets of the culprits — for a top-to-bottom revamp of airport officials and personnel.
The illegal scheme made the headlines recently after a 56-year-old Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong was arrested at NAIA for carrying a live bullet. Pro-OFW groups and even Sen. Cynthia Villar said the OFW, Gloria Ortinez, doesn't fit the profile of someone who will do such thing, noting her almost 20-year experience as an overseas worker.
Abaya, however, said data from the Office of Transportation Security indicated that some recorded incidents related to the so-called "laglag bala" racket were actually legitimate cases of passengers bringing bullets to airports.
“May nag-report sa akin kaagad kahapon, 'yung isang Hapon na nahuli noong isang araw siya mismo ay umamin na galing siya ng firing range ng ilang araw at kumuha siya ng souvenir. Nagkataon naiwan sa jacket niya at napasama sa kanyang dalahin ng pumasok sa airport,” he said.
“Ganoon din kahapon ay may dalawa sa ating mga kababayan ay nahulihan ng bala at sila mismo inamin na dala nila 'yun dahil paniniwala nila na parang anting-anting 'yun na magpu-protect sa kanila,” he added.
Abaya stressed that the law prohibits the possession of bullets while in airport premises, saying this constitutes illegal possession of ammunition.
“Malinaw na malinaw na itong iligal at prohibited items ay hindi dapat palampasin at makaabot sa mga eroplano po,” he said, adding other countries may have stiffer penalties for such violation.
“Mas maganda na nasasalanag na dito dahil hindi natin alam ang batas ng ibang mga bansa na pupuntahan po natin. Baka mas matindi pa 'yung parusa,” Abaya said.
In the Philippines, a passenger caught with bullets in his or her luggage while at the airport may face up to six years in jail. —Andrei Medina/KBK, GMA News