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Justice Releases 12 ‘Bala’ Suspects

THE Justice Department has ordered the release of 12 people arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport with bullets in their luggage, citing the lack of probable cause.

Pasay City Prosecutor Nolasco Fernandez Jr. ordered the release of the 12, who said they were victims of the “tanim bala” (bullet planting) extortion racket at the airport, and who were assisted by the Public Attorney’s Office during their inquest proceedings.

Bullets to amulets. Unice Alejo of Baguio City shows off some bullets that, she said, had been turned into amulets and which they now sell for P150 each in Quiapo, Manila, for protection against witchcraft. Danny Pata
An American missionary who said he was a victim of the same scheme said Monday he will file counter charges against airport security officials with evidence to prove that they planted the .22 caliber bullet inside his luggage.

Lawyers of Lane Michael White, an American missionary who was detained six days in September after a bullet was found in his bag at the airport, said he had a video that would prove his innocence and establish the existence of a bullet-planting syndicate.

The video was recorded by his stepmother, Eloisa Zoleta, showing two members of the Department of Transportation and Communications-Office for Transportation Security, Marvin Garcia and Maria Elma Cena, rummaging through White’s luggage with their bare hands after it had passed the first X-ray scan. 

A second scan showed the bullet.

White insisted that he was a victim of the bullet scam and that he could prove that OTS personnel tried to extort P30,000 from him.

 “They can lie to people but not to God. I stand by my statement. If my being jailed was needed to make the truth come out and save other people, then being in jail was worth it,” said White.

White, a first-timer in the country who was supposed to be doing an outreach program for his church, is on provisional liberty after he posted bail following his arrest.

His lawyer, Ernesto Arellano, said the video will be used as evidence in their plea for determination of probable cause to have the charges of illegal possession of ammunition against White dismissed.

The Regional Trial Court Branch 119 allowed him to post bail and reduced the required amount from P80,000 to P40,000.
White said he and his parents arrived in Manila Sept. 17 to look for a lot in Palawan province where they could build a church for their congregation. But their connecting flight to Palawan was canceled, forcing them to book another flight at Terminal 4 the following day.
With the widening scandal over the extortion scheme, four bag inspectors and X-ray screeners at the Naia were suspended following complaints that they extorted money from passengers by allegedly putting bullets in their luggage.

The four, all personnel of the OTS, were suspended but were not charged.
The OTS, which is under the DoTC, is responsible for the security of the transportation systems of the country, including civil aviation.
Screening inspectors at Naia are directly accountable to the OTS rather than the Manila International Airport Authority.

Two more arrests were made at the airport Monday, including a 71-year-old grandmother meeting a relative from Dubai at the lobby of the Naia Terminal 3. 

Police held Antonina Agustin of Nueva Ecija for questioning for carrying live bullets that were detected by an X-ray scan. Agustin said the 9mm and .38 bullets found in her shoulder bag were given to her by her doctor years ago to protect her from sickness.
A passenger bound for Bacolod was also held at Terminal 3 for carrying a cal .45 bullet that was detected at the initial X-ray scan.
Police identified the passenger as Edina Sanchez, 35, who was carrying her newborn when stopped by OTS screeners who detected a bullet in her baby stroller.

Also on Monday, an administration lawmaker condemned attempts by the Manila International Airport Authority to suppress media covering the airport in the wake of the tanim-bala scandal.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said airport reporters were complaining about the decision of MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado to restrict airport reporters from accessing Naia Terminal 3 in what they saw as a move to stop media from reporting about the extortion racket.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, meanwhile, dismissed calls for Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to resign over the airport scandal and his failure to improve service on Metro Manila’s city trains.

“It is counter-productive and foolish  to remove Secretary Abaya from office. He is right now on top of major multi-billion peso infrastructure  projects, like the new skyways to link the North and South Expressways to decongest Metro Manila traffic,” Albano said.

“With about eight months before the Aquino government steps  down next year, it is foolish and  totally unproductive  to seek the ouster  or  resignation of Secretary Abaya just to pander to the misguided [demands]  of a few, especially politicians running for public office  who are exploiting the issue for  their own selfish ends,” Albano said. With Rey E. Requejo

Topics: Laglag Bala , Tanim Bala
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