By Hannah Torregoza | Manila Bulletin
Senators yesterday deplored President Aquino’s attempt to belittle the alleged existence of a syndicate victimizing travelers in the country’s airports by planting bullets in their luggage.
Short of branding his statements as another insensitive remark, Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said it is “unfortunate” for the President to disparage victims of “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme with statistics.
The syndicates seemingly preyed mostly on elderly passengers and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“It is unfortunate that instead of trying to get into the bottom of these allegations, the President instead chose to dismiss these outright with statistics and even defended the airport authorities,” Marcos lamented.
Aquino, in an interview in Malaysia, expressed doubts about an organized “tanim-bala” extortion scheme, noting that only three passengers from 34 million that pass the airports annually had complained so far about the alleged extort scheme. Aquino also said that only 1,200 cases of illegal possession of bullets were reported.
The President likewise scored the media, accusing them of sensationalizing the issue.
“Reports affirm that many victims of the tanim-bala scheme opted to just pay up instead of reporting it to the authorities to avoid inconvenience,” Marcos said.
“This is not about statistics; this is about an entire life, career, or future of an individual and their families ruined by an extortion scheme. One incident of tanim-bala is one incident too many,” Marcos asserted.
Sen. Cynthia Villar said the case of Gloria Ortinez, an OFW bound for Hong Kong, is no trivial matter.
“Do you think Nanay Gloria’s profile is the type to sensationalize an issue? I think she is just an ordinary person who was surprised at what was done to her,” Villar pointed out.
Villar said the President should take into consideration that there may be other victims who just had no time to report the extortion activities to authorities.
“Some are used to the ways of the world, so they would agree to pay just so they can go. But she (Ortinez) and some other OFWs are not used to that. Just imagine, if a bullet is found in your bag, you would be charged with illegal possession of ammunition. That’s criminal (case). So you will resort to bribes because that’s a serious case,” she pointed out.
Nevertheless, she said the President should not have shrugged off the issue even if the statistics of those victimized compared to the millions that have entered and are entering Ninoy Aquino International Airports (NAIA) is minimal.
“Because you’ll never know, the others just won’t complain. But even if the number is small, it’s still a serious matter. Just one unsuspecting OFW and gets charged with a criminal case and will lose her job abroad isn’t serious?” she asked.
“I cannot imagine a person would risk everything for just one bullet. I don’t see the logic in that. Will you risk being apprehended, being charged with that crime just because of one bullet?” she pointed out.
PALACE TO AQUINO’S DEFENSE
But Malacañang defended President Aquino following criticisms that he was insensitive when he downplayed the tanim-bala scam.
“Hindi rin naman po siguro makatuwirang sabihin na manhid o insensitive ang gobyerno. Ilalagay lang po sa tamang perspective [I don’t think it’s fair to say that the government is insensitive. I think we should put this in the right perspective],” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
He said the tanim-bala scam is already being investigated by the proper authorities, adding that it should not affect innocent airport employees.
“The government is investigating complaints and if there was an abuse of power among airport personnel. The investigation is ongoing, the DOJ (Department of Justice) is just asking for some time to conclude its investigation. Once it is concluded, we will make accountable those responsible for the tanim-bala scam,” Coloma said.
However, Marcos said Malacañang’s reaction puts into question the government’s sincerity in addressing the alleged extortion scheme plaguing the country’s airports.
“The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has yet to complete its investigation of the alleged extortion scheme. When the President doubts an organized tanim-bala extortion scheme exists, that would certainly put a cloud of doubt on whatever findings the NBI will come up with later,” Marcos said.
“We have seen how the airport employees have been affected and we can see that most of them are honestly serving,” Coloma said, noting that there should be concrete proof on the tanim-bala scam.
The “tanim bala” scam has angered netizens after it victimized local and foreign tourists and shamed the Philippines’ main airports.
Passengers, Filipinos or foreigners, started putting cling wraps around their luggage, while some placed duct tapes on the zipper of their bags and locks to make sure they will not be victimized by the tanim-bala scam – an airport scene that put the country in bad light.