The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is set to provide temporary shelters for OFWs in case they experience any "untoward incident" while in airports, including being victimized by the so-called "laglag bala" extortion racket.
OWWA Administrator Rebecca J. Calzado on Thursday said she has instructed their personnel to assist OFWs coming in and going out of the country, after reports came out that Filipino migrant workers were among the targets of the extortion scheme.
"Acting upon the instructions of Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, Administrator Calzado alerted the OWWA personnel particularly those assigned at the airport to assist OFWs coming in and going out of the country," the OWWA said in a statement.
"OWWA is also ready to provide temporary shelter to OFWs and could facilitate communication with their next-of-kin in case untoward incident happens," it added.
Calzado expressed concern over reports that bullets, which are prohibited in airports, are being found in the luggage of OFWs. Some claimed the bullets were planted by unscrupulous airport personnel in order to extort money from them.
"With the coming of holiday season, it would spread worry among those who will be coming home for their vacation," Calzado said.
Meanwhile, OWWA personnel had met with the family of Gloria Ortinez, an OFW working in Hong Kong who was a victim of the "laglag bala" scheme, to discuss possible assistance.
The statement said during the meeting, Ortinez's family narrated to OWWA officials what happened to her.
"Although she was released temporarily, she is still under investigation," the OWWA said. "Her legal counsel is scheduled to visit the Head Office in Manila to further discuss her case."
“Staff members are advised to keep your luggage with you, lock your luggage, and consider wrapping your luggage in plastic as an extra security measure,” said an internal memo by the UN Department of Safety and Security dated Nov. 3.
"Blown out of proportion"
Airport officials have denied their security officers were involved in the scam.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, in a press conference Wednesday, said the “laglag bala” issue seemed to have been “blown out of proportion,” citing last year's data showing some 0.004 percent of the total number of passengers who went through Philippine airports were caught with ammunition in their bags.
Despite the cited statistics, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Abaya had committed that the government will get to the bottom of the controversy.
Calzado, meanwhile, urged OFWs and Filipinos leaving or entering the country to be extra vigilant with their belongings at the airport.
"They must always keep their baggage with them at all times and carefully watch them as they go through the x-ray machines," she said. "In the event they will be questioned, they must always ask for an airport authority and a witness before bags are examined." —Bianca Rose Dabu/KBK, GMA News