Before “laglag-bala”, there was lampas-droga or the smuggling of illegal drugs by outgoing passengers whose contraband slipped past the X-ray screeners of the Office of Transport Security (OTS).
Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian finds it strange why airport screeners, who were responsible for the seizure of bullets from several passengers this week, failed to detect the 2.5 kilos of cocaine on the hand-carried luggage of four Filipinas who were arrested in Hong Kong more than a month ago.
Even stranger was the fact that OTS head Roland Recamono admitted that he was not aware of that four Filipinas carrying 2.5 kilos of cocaine have been arrested in Hong Kong and only learned about it when asked by the media for his reaction.
“This is the height of incompetence, if not stupidity. Here are our OTS screeners having a grand time finding bullets in several luggage and yet, they fail to detect the 2.5 kilos of cocaine that also passed through their X-ray machines,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian said he now suspects that the latest airport craze on “laglag-bala” incidents could just be a diversion or smokescreen to the “lampas-droga” incident that led to the arrest of four Filipinas in Hong Kong and who are now possible candidates for execution as what happened to the other Filipino drug mules.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has confirmed that there were four Filipinas arrested for the foiled smuggling of 2.5 kilos of cocaine. Sheryl Chua, Marilou Thomas, Remelyn Rogue and a dentist identified as Dr. Ana Loella were arrested when they arrived in Hong Kong via Cebu Pacific flight 5J 142 on Sept. 26.
“It is really surprising how 2.5 kilos of cocaine were able to slip past two X-ray machines manned by airport screeners. Even the drug-sniffing dogs failed to do their jobs to detect illegal drugs,” explained Gatchalian.
Gatchalian warned the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) that the “laglag-bala” modus as well as the “lampas-droga” racket at the NAIA might again catapult NAIA to No. 1 in the world’s worst airports.
Gatchalian expressed this worry as the NAIA has just made it out of the list by travel website The Guide To Sleeping in Airports this year after topping it for three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013 and placing fourth last year.
“The ‘Laglag-Bala’ scheme has damaged NAIA’s reputation so badly; it is very likely that NAIA will slip back to the number one spot of the world’s top 10 worst airports,” said Gatchalian, a senior vice chair of the House Committee on Tourism.
Gatchalian has filed last September House Bill No. 2419, directing the House Committees on Good Government and on Transportation to investigate, in aid of legislation, the series of “laglag-bala” incidents at the NAIA which victimized Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva in 2014.
Gatchalian added that the bullet planting scheme allegedly being operated by employees of the OTS, which is under the DOTC, has worsened the reputation of NAIA among local and foreign travelers, as the airport, still the 8th worst airport in Asia, has yet to improve its current infrastructures.
“The mayhem that is NAIA proves how far our terminals are from being world-class. Now the DOTC not only has to prioritize the improvement of existing airport infrastructures like adding runways. DOTC officials also have to focus on managing the already-damaged reputation of NAIA, and they should do it through a top-to-bottom revamp of the OTS as soon as possible,” he said, reiterating a recommendation he made months ago.
The Valenzuela City lawmaker also thumbed down Abaya’s observation that the “laglag-bala” cases “have been blown out of proportion”, saying the constant preying on passengers by airport personnel to extort money from them has even elicited the attention of international media such as BBC, Time, and the International Business Times.
“This madness is getting so out of hand that the situation is now not only an international embarrassment but has evolved into an international disaster that is scaring away not only our overseas Filipino workers but also tourists and possible investors,” said Gatchalian. (R. Burgos and Monica Cantilero)