Planting Bullets Is Never Fun

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The “laglag bala” or “tanim bala” scam (dropping bullets in luggage of unsuspecting international travelers and extorting money from these travelers) has become a global embarrassment and a huge black-eye for the Philippines.

Imagine what it has done to our image.  This is a setback to tourism (count the pesos and dollars lost), further reinforces the perception of lawlessness in the country (think third world and how we’re trying to get out of that), and sends shivers up the spine of potential investors (still the “sick man” in Asia; if you can’t safely travel to the Philippines to do business, then forget it).

Why Did This Go This Far?

No one had the guts to say STOP!

Our erstwhile president, Noynoy Aquino, should have nipped this in the bud by treating this as a crisis.  He should have gone on national television and sent a strong message to the Filipino people (and the world) that the government was out to stop this practice – even if there was only one bullet found.

The initial response from the government  —  Malacañang downplayed the alleged scam, saying that such incidents are only few compared to the supposedly smooth flow of thousands of passengers in Philippine airports.  Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya earlier said only 1,510 people or 0.004 percent of the 32.4 million passengers who passed through the four terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals have been apprehended for bringing bullets.

Anak ng  . . . ,as my late brother-in-law would say, even one bullet is one too many.

And what about accountability?  Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Jose Angel Honrado and DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya have not owned up to responsibility for making sure that travelers are not subject to the shenanigans of unscrupulous personnel under their watch.  And still, they are in office – no investigations, no reprimand, no firing.  Has anyone been investigated, reprimanded, or fired?  And why not replace both Honrado and Abaya?

Responses from our Presidentiables

“Presidentiables” – I’ve always wanted to use this word.

Mar Roxas (my and our next president):  “Regardless of the statistics, ‎one person wrongfully accused is one case too many.”

“Much anger, fear, and embarrassment has been caused by these laglag-bala incidents. Our OFW heroes have been victimized along with the image of our country. The syndicates behind this must be held to account. We condemn the greedy and selfish few who victimize our countrymen.”

Binay and Poe (while waiting for this crisis to implode on the Administration and Roxas):
Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senator Grace Poe yesterday called for swift government action on the “tanim-bala’ controversy that has been hounding the country’s premier airports.

Binay urged President Aquino to fire all members of the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) while calling for a thorough review of Executive Order 311 creating OTS.

Poe, on the other hand, urged Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado to put a stop to the scam within a week or step down.

Santiago (another resolution):
Santiago has filed Senate Resolution No. 1635 that the Senate should consider “creating a task force that will investigate alleged illicit activity of state agents, recommend sanctions against those involved, and put in place mechanisms that will deter similar schemes.”

 Post-Mortem

 In summary, the “tanim-bala” scam can only end if:

  1. We have strong leadership (calling Mar Roxas and not too late for Noynoy)
  2. We have full respect for the law (a long way to go)
  3. Accountability – Abaya and Honrado should take responsibility for the public trust given in them; or fire them
  4. Decriminalize possession of one bullet in one’s luggage, as long as it can be shown its possession was a mistake or the bullet is an amulet (removes reason to extort)
  5. Bend over backwards; take extra steps to make sure this does not happen again (maybe we need a Duterte); take two steps forward to make up for the one step backward

Now we hear that this scam has gone on for the past decade or so, with impunity.  Now, that is another story.  If this is entrenched corruption and involves a “syndicate”, then we are dealing with a way of life or way of doing things that will take some time to dismantle.  Stay tuned, Philippines.

Galen S. Altavas

Galen Altavas has worked in both the private and public sectors both in the Philippines and the United States, as a rural banker, fishpond operator, marketing manager, financial analyst, IT manager and IT project manager. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Ateneo de Manila University and an MBA in Finance from the Seattle University in Seattle, WA. He resides in Baybay, Roxas City, Philippines and Seattle, WA.