MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is leaving it up to the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the alleged bullet-planting scam at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), with President Aquino issuing a directive to the NBI to “watch the watchers.”
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday it would be better to focus on measures to prevent the scheme from taking place.
She cited the President’s orders for all departments and agencies to implement measures such as the installation of more closed circuit television cameras and prevention of inspectors from touching or having any contact with the belongings of passengers.
“In case (a bullet) is found, if it’s a live bullet, it will be turned over to PNP (Philippine National Police) Aviation Security Group to start the (probe) process,” Valte said.
Aside from the steps to be taken to address the issue, Valte said “the NBI is already on deck to conduct their own investigations because the President’s directive is, you have to watch the watchers.”
She said this was the way forward and they were hoping that the new steps would stop the complaints.
“Whether it’s two, three or .01 percent, whatever is the percentage – it is enough that there is one person that is unfairly accused of a crime that he or she did not commit,” Valte said, referring to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya’s recent statements on the issue.
Abaya said on Tuesday that the reports were “blown out of proportion” and the number of people getting caught with bullets in their luggage was less than 0.004 percent of the total number of passengers passing through NAIA.
The statements drew adverse reactions from various sectors, including lawmakers calling for Abaya’s resignation.
Valte, however, said she could not comment on Sen. Francis Escudero’s call for the President to fire Abaya because of his pronouncements pending completion of an investigation.
Valte stressed it would not be good to focus on the President’s reaction to what Abaya had stated.
Valte added they were hoping that negative reports, including in international media, would not have lasting effects on the country’s image and undo all efforts and hard work in the past years to improve the perception of the Philippines by the foreign community.
“Unfortunately, these (reports) are unintended consequences of the attention that this (issue) has generated and we are hoping that the effects will not be lasting, will not have a long-term effect on what our country is trying to do to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination,” she said.
Valte added the preparations for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit would not be affected by the controversy and that they had not received feedback from the member-economies regarding the matter.
“Since the investigation of the NBI is ongoing, we at this point would rather let the investigation run its course, and then comment on the final report after,” Valte said when asked if authorities were also looking at other allegations against those assigned at the airport, such as sex-for-flight or human trafficking.
Valte said Abaya had been continually updating the President on the alleged bullet scam.
When asked if indeed the existence of a syndicate or an organized group being behind the incidents was being ruled out, Valte replied, “all avenues will be pursued and will be investigated.”
“Again, the NBI has always proceeded on any investigation with an open mind, so all avenues will be considered,” she said.
Valte said Aquino asked to “watch the watchers” in general because “while there are security measures, we also have to make sure that these measures are implemented properly and that no one is taking advantage.”
The President’s position is that if there are those abusing the process, then action must be taken, Valte said.
Valte noted the NBI encouraged others who might have been victimized to report to the agency and give a statement.
The NBI said they have secured a list of passengers who were charged before the Pasay City courts for possession of bullets in their luggage.
Other sectors called on the NBI to immediately resolve the case, while some lawmakers continued to press for the resignation of Abaya and airport officials.
Former justice secretary Leila de Lima said the bullet-planting scheme must be resolved because it has become an embarrassment to the country.
She said a deeper investigation is needed to determine if indeed there is a syndicate behind the scam and why the suspects are brave enough to do it inside an international airport.
Former interior secretary Manuel Roxas II said authorities are exerting all efforts to address the situation and find out if there was a syndicate behind the scheme.
“At the earliest possible time this must be investigated, the ones responsible must be apprehended or dismissed from the service if found guilty and should answer for taking advantage of our OFWs,” Roxas said.
Roxas also asked passengers to refrain from carrying bullets, even as amulets, because they will be placed in a difficult situation when they are found with a contraband at the port of entry in other countries.
Roxas said that based on the information he gathered, there were more than a thousand incidents in which bullets were found in the luggage of passengers over the past ten months.
“So it means this is frequently happening. But the point of the issue is were bullets really found in the luggage of passengers or were they dropped by members of the syndicate inside their luggage?
“Personally, I pity those who had been victimized by this scheme so I support a speedy probe on this and those responsible for victimizing our OFWs and other passengers be identified,” he said.
Joel Villanueva, former chief of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, lamented a big number of victims of the scam are overseas Filipino workers.
As the public awaits the findings of the probe, Villanueva appealed for sobriety so authorities can do their work judiciously.
Migrante, a migrant workers’ group, said they would initiate a campaign against the bullet-planting scheme by calling for a zero remittance holiday.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, for his part, pressed for the speedy resolution of the complaint he filed against Abaya and airport officials led by NAIA general manager Angel Honrado before the Office of the Ombudsman.
Cayetano also said there is no need for Congress to amend a law to ease the penalty for possessing a single bullet as a solution to the alleged extortion scheme at the airport.
Citing a Supreme Court ruling, Cayetano said that if there is no intent to possess and the police authority finds no probable cause that an individual is a criminal or a terrorist, there is no need to file charges.
He said it would be impossible that everyday somebody is trying to slip a bullet through NAIA.
Source: Nov 6 Philstar