An administrative complaint has been filed against Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) General Manager Jose Angel Honrado and two other officials in connection with the “laglag-bala” extortion scheme victimizing travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Chairman Dante Jimenez, and Network of Independent Travel Agents (NITAS) Chairman Robert Lim Joseph filed the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman Tuesday.
Besides Abaya and Honrado, Office for Transportation Security (OTS) Administrator Rolando Recomono and Philippine National Police Aviation Security Group (PNP-Avsegroup) Director Pablo Balagtas have also been named respondents in the complaint.
Cayetano and company seek to hold the four officials administratively liable for gross neglect of duty under Executive Order 226 or the “Doctrine of Command Responsibility in all Government Offices and Agencies.”
Under EO 226, “any government official or supervisor, or officer of the PNP or any law enforcement agency shall be held accountable for Neglect of Duty under the doctrine of ‘command responsibility’ if they have knowledge of an offense…committed by their subordinates…and despite such knowledge, did not take preventive or corrective action either before, during, or immediately after its commission.”
“The heart of the cause of action of this complaint is the gross inaction of the respondents, even amidst knowledge of the crime or offense of their subordinates or lapses within their jurisdiction,” the complaint read.
The complainants also seek to have Abaya, Honrado, Recomono, and Balagtas placed under preventive suspension while the complaint is being investigated.
“That a preventive suspension order be levelled against all the Respondents; That an investigation be conducted in order to determine the extent of administrative and criminal liability and civil liability to the victims,” the complaint stated.
Cayetano also said in a press statement that the four “should be dismissed and removed from their post.”
“If our officials cannot solve these issues fast and ensure the safety and well-being of the people they sworn to protect, then I see no point in making them remain in office,” the statement read.
Cayetano, who is running for vice president in 2016, lamented the officials’ inaction over the “laglag-bala” scheme, which he said has been going on for years.
“Malinaw na malinaw sa EO 226 na kapag may krimen na nangyari, in this case ay yung laglag-bala or tanim-bala scam, at alam ng superior at wala siyang ginawa, dapat managot siya. Matagal na nilang nakikitang nangyayari ito pero wala silang ginawa,” he said.
Victims growing in numbers
At a press briefing Monday, Superintendent Jeanne Panisan of the PNP-Avsegroup disclosed that from January to October this year, the OTS has already confiscated a total of 84 bullets from airline passengers.
However, a separate report from GMA News said a total of 3,325 bullets have been seized by airport personnel from passengers from January to August this year.
The “laglag-bala” or “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme has caught the attention of the media and the public following successive reports of such extortion attempts by crooked airport personnel on unsuspecting passengers.
The first case that hugged the headlines this year was that of Lane Michael White, a 20-year-old American tourist who was detained for six days in September by aviation police at the NAIA Terminal 1 on accusations that bullets were found in his luggage as it passed through the x-ray machine. White alleged that an OTS personnel demanded P30,000 in exchange for his release. He was set free after posting a P40,000 bail.
Days after White’s story came out, social media became abuzz with another case – that of Filipino-American Rhed Austria de Guzman. Wheelchair-bound de Guzman recounted her experience on Facebook, saying that two OTS personnel asked P500 bribe money from her after they allegedly found two bullets in her luggage. The Fil-American said she opted to give them the money they asked for so she wouldn’t miss her flight back to Los Angeles.
Following the incident, two airport employees were relieved from duty pending investigation.
Last October 25, Gloria Ortinez, a 56-year-old OFW missed her flight to Hong Kong after airport security personnel allegedly found a bullet in her luggage. Ortinez underwent inquest proceedings for violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act but was released from custody after the Pasay City Prosecutors Office found that the alleged bullet found in her luggage was different from the evidence presented.
On the same day, Japanese national Kazunobu Sakamoto, 33, was charged with illegal possession of ammunition after authorities found two 9mm bullets concealed in a shirt in his luggage. Sakamoto was freed after posting P80,000 bail.
Five days later, Augusto Dagan, a 60-year-old passenger bound for Manila was apprehended at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City after authorities discovered two live bullets in his luggage.
Last Nov. 1, a 65-year-old woman identified as Nimfa Fontamillas was prevented from boarding her flight to Singapore and was invited for questioning by the Avsegroup after an X-ray monitor showed the image of a bullet inside her bag.
The outside pocket of Fontamillas’ sealed handbag yielded a 9mm bullet. She is now facing charges for violation of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act.
OTS Welcomes NBI Probe
Office of Transportation Security administrator Roland Recomono said on Tuesday that his office welcomes the idea of having the NBI step in to probe allegations of his men’s involvement in the “laglag-bala” scheme.
“For the sake of transparency, why don’t we create a task group or a task force,” Recomono said in an interview with GMA News.
The OTS chief, however, maintained that despite allegations, no one among the OTS inspectors have been charged or placed under investigation for said extortion scheme.
As of today, 65 OTS personnel have been dismissed, 19 have been suspended, and 36 have been under investigation.