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Probe extortion at airport — Recto

Senator Ralph Recto on Saturday asked his colleagues to investigate  airport personnel allegedly engaged in extortion by planting bullets in luggage of passengers.

The 2013 Firearms Law, according to Recto, stated that “if you are a public official and you plant a bullet in the person or property of an individual for the purpose of framing him up, you go to jail for life.”

“Planting ammunitions carries life in jail penalty, it is time for the Senate to probe airport scams. The investigation should proceed as fast as possible so that the parties will have their day in court,” he said in a statement.

Recto vowed to file a resolution on Monday to formally seek an official Senate probe into the allegations and other irregularities happening in the airport, which he said defraud, swindle, or deceive airline passengers.

“The social media is awash with horror tales of passengers who have been duped by criminals and con artists in NAIA, and apparently the “tanim bala” modus operandi is but one of them,” he said.

Among the irregularities, the senator said, are the pilferage of baggage, the forced shepherding of passengers into unaccredited taxis and the illegal search on travelers for suspicion of carrying extra cash.

“Although such incidents are far from being the norm, and are committed or countenanced by a few government employees, the same should still be investigated as they give the whole government a black eye,” he said.

Recto explained that a Congressional probe is also needed on the matter, saying the agencies supervising the NAIA apparently failed to curb the abuses on their own and there is no working system that is “guarding the guards.”

“A functioning internal affairs system would have served as a tripwire that would have caught these problems early on and reprimands would have been meted out. Compounding the situation is the alphabet soup of government agencies operating inside NAIA, functioning as independent republics, with no superagency conducting an oversight,” he said.

Recto said authorities could have invited other agencies like the National Bureau of Investigation to place under surveillance erring airport personnel. “But apparently this was not done.”

The Senate noted that more than 31 million passengers used the country’s premier international airport last year. With this volume, Recto said, it is a revenue earner for the government.

The Manila International Airport Authority posted gross revenues of P8.7 billion in 2013, and net profit before tax of P3.9 billion.

The Office of Transportation Security had an end of 2014 balance of P1.4 billion from the Aviation Security Fee collected from each passenger. This year, it is expected to earn P627 million from this.

Philippine Tourism Authority will earn P5.1 billion from Travel Tax this year, mostly from Naia outbound passengers.

Even the bulk of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ projected P5.4-billion gross income this year would come from Naia operations.

“With all these combined amounts, government cannot plead poverty in ridding Naia and other major airports of tricksters—whether in uniform or not,” said Recto.

Reports showed that first time tourist Lane Michael White from Florida was placed under custody at the airport Terminal 4 for five days after a bullet was found in his checked-in baggage while being scanned.

The 20-year old foreigner denied knowledge of how the .22 caliber bullet got inside his bag. An airport employee later told him that his problem will be settled in the amount of P30,000.

A wheelchair-bound balikbayan also became a victim when two bullets were reportedly discovered at her luggage. She had to pay P500 to the airport security personnel to be allowed to depart the country.

Airport officials are conducting internal inquiry on the case while two airport security personnel involved were immediately suspended. They also appealed to the public to lend credit to the investigation and cautioned them against prejudice towards airport employees as most of them abide by their duty.

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