I mentioned this in my last post and for those who are unaware of this scam, for a scam is what it is, well, here’s the lowdown on Laglag bala. It all takes place at Manila’s main airport, NAIA, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and involves the planting of a single bullet within a travellers hand luggage. Now even this point is somewhat of a grey area as many who have been caught up in this scam say that the bullet never leaves the customs officers hand, but rather the implication is made. Of course once the bullet is found the unfortunate passenger is then subject to extortion and left with paying a hefty fine to make their flight, a fine that it is reportedly shared out amongst the culprits.
Although this scam has now garnered international attention those who have come forward to expose the scam say that it has been in operation since 2008, but recent high profile victims of the scam has meant that the NAIA has yet another blackmark against it adding to it being voted the worst airport in the world for five years running. Senate hearings have already been held without much progress being made, presumably because the presidential elections next year. However one senator, Sen. Miriam Defensor has sought to introduce an amendment to a bill that increases the penalty for planting evidence, in this case the bullet, by up to 20 years imprisonment.
Of course this is all retrospective as the victim will miss their flight and in some cases lose their jobs as a result, as in the case of a 56 year old OFW, overseas foreign worker, who lost her job of 13 years due to this scam. Happily it was reported later that her employer had a change of heart and reinstated her. Other high profile cases include American Lane White, a missionary, who was travelling to Palawan with his Father and Stepmother. He was stopped by security guards in terminal 4 when they pulled out a .22 calibre bullet from the side pocket of his luggage. White denied all knowledge of ownership of the bullet and then goes on to allege that other security personal told him that the problem could be made to ‘go away’ for P30,000, approx $650 or £425. He refused and then spent 5 days behind bars and is currently considering pressing both civil and criminal charges.
Just last week another victim posted on facebook, a post that has been shared over 70,000 times that she experienced similar when two bullets where found in her luggage. She added that she paid a fine of P500, $10 or £7, just to be able to leave the country. One of the strangest stories surrounding this scam surfaced a few weeks ago when two police officers were suspended due to the bullet being shown as evidence in a court case magically transformed into a different calibre.
So there you have a glimpse of what is happening over at the NAIA, but one point has been seriously overlooked in my belief, and I have to state that I haven’t travelled out of the NAIA for a couple of years but, if my memory is correct as you enter the main terminal both you and your all of your luggage is scanned before entering the airport building. So why haven’t these bullets been found then, why are they not found until you go through the scanners at customs? No one seems to have even mentioned this fact, if it is still the case.
Also, servicemen appear to have been exempted from this scam as the perpetrators are worried that they will know embassy staff and more problems will be caused, according to a whistleblower. No one can set bail, or a fine except a judge, but these scammers are relying on the fact that you want or need to make your flight. What they are not considering is the knock on effect all of this has on potential tourists, who will think twice before coming here for a vacation. All of this has resulted in travellers arrive with all of their luggage shrink wrapped in an effort to thwart the scammers. Some online advice has surfaced that encourages travellers who find themselves caught up in this scam to ask for a screenshot of the x-ray machine, request the cctv footage of their luggage and have the physical search of their luggage done in front of with as many witnesses as possible, inc the traveller, a supervisor and bystanders.
It’s a shame that yet another scam is in operation, despite claims from the OTS, the Office of Transport Security, who are responsible for airport x-ray scanner personnel that the so called Laglag Bala gang had been disbanded by previous airport management. Try telling that to the victims!
Ps Laglag bala is also known as Tanim Bala here in the Philippines.