Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Congressman Win Gatchalian has reiterated his call for a top-to-bottom revamp of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) after two more victims have fallen prey to the “laglag-bala” scheme at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Gatchalian earlier filed House Resolution No. 2419 which directs the committees on Good Government and on Transportation to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the series of laglag-bala incidents in NAIA.
Gatchalian’s call for a total revamp at the OTS was prompted by the revelation of Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva that he too fell prey to the “laglag bala syndicate” while he was leaving for abroad sometime in August 2014.
“This is already becoming an international embarrassment. OTS personnel do not only shamelessly victimize our country’s modern-day heroes, they are also not afraid to prey on foreigners,” said Gatchalian, a senior vice chair of the House Committee on Tourism.
The latest victims of alleged “laglag bala” in NAIA include a 56-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW) named Gloria Ortinez and a 33-year-old Japanese national Kazunobu Sakamoto who were arrested, detained and charged for allegedly carrying bullets in their luggages.
Ortinez claimed an OTS personnel planted a bullet in her hand luggage as it went through an x-ray machine at the NAIA Terminal 2 departure area. She was prevented from leaving the country on Sunday and has been detained.
Ortinez’s lawyer, Spocky Farolan, asked why authorities of the Laoag International Airport, where Ortinez came from before going to the NAIA Terminal 4 and transferred to the NAIA Terminal 2, did not confiscate the bullet: “Do they have different security procedures in airport terminals?”
The other alleged victim, Sakamato, was arrested by the Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group after the OTS found two bullets in the right side pocket of his baggage.
Both Ortinze and Sakamaoto have been charged with illegal possession of live ammunition and have been released from detention after posting bail.
“These latest incidents of what appears to be ‘laglag bala’ make it more urgent for the Department of Transportation and Communications to change their OTS personnel from management to the rank and file,” Gatchalian pointed out.
The “laglag bala” scheme has previously victimized a young American missionary and a wheelchaired balikbayan.
“It’s bad enough that such nefarious activities being committed by OTS personnel are causing an embarrassment to the NAIA and as an institution. But what’s worse is the serious threat it poses to our tourism industry and the overall security of our airports,” said the lawmaker.
Gatchalian also advised the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to follow the example of the Civil Aviation Authority 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, including video-recorded theft of the tail of a lechon by an airport employee who hid it in his pocket.
According to CAAP spokesperson Eric Apolonio, removing the pocket from uniforms would also make it more difficult for airport personnel to bring contraband items like bullets that could be used to extort money from passengers.
On-duty airport personnel will also be disallowed from carrying gadgets with them. The no-pockets-and-gadgets scheme has already met success in its test run when it was implemented at the Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro City.
“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, a senior vice chair of the House Committee on Tourism.
Gatchalian added: “There are honest airport employees, some have been known to even return lost belongings of passengers. This makes purging of scheming employees more necessary so their corruption won’t spread further.” (R. Burgos)