MANILA International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado got a dressing down from Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Thursday for washing his hands of the widening “tanim bala” extortion mess and any other problems at the airport.
After Honrado told the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing that he had no control and supervision over the baggage inspectors accused of planting bullets on travelers to extort money from them, Marcos pressed the airport manager: “What then is your job?”
Honrado replied, “To ensure the smooth flow at the airport.”
But Marcos said bullet planting was not conducive to a smooth flow at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
“What is then your job if you simply ignore these incidents, or those arrested with guns or firecrackers? When you go to work in the morning, what do you do?” Marcos asked.
“What if there was a terrorist who was able to sneak in the airport during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit? What’s your standard operating procedures for this?” he added.
Honrado insisted, however, that the incidents fell under the jurisdiction of the Philippine National Police, and it was the PNP that must file charges against those arrested at the airport. The Office of Transportation Security, on the other hand, has supervision over the passengers.
Before grilling Honrado on his functions at the airport, Marcos asked him when he first heard about the case of Gloria Ortinez, the Hong Kong-bound Filipino worker who was stopped when a bullet that she denied owning was found in her luggage.
Honrado said he could not remember the date, but said he heard about her after she underwent an inquest at the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office after two days of detention at the airport.
Honrado said that while he learned about most cases at the end of the day, he was not aware of Ortinez’s arrest by OTS personnel.
Criticized for his ignorance, Honrado said he had no command and control over the OTS or the 21 other agencies operating at the airport.
“If you have no control over agencies in the airport, what’s your job? You don’t have the command and control. You cannot coordinate without command and control. So you’re saying now, you have no command and control in the airport?” Marcos asked.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano contradicted Honrado’s assertion, saying the MIAA was mandated to provide general supervision and overall coordination of all government agencies operating at the airport.
“You have general supervision…. There should be one person in charge,” Cayetano said.
At the same hearing, Marcos took Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to task for doing a “sloppy job” as DoTC secretary, and for defending Honrado, who was equally remiss in his job.
Marcos also said he was surprised Abaya could not answer queries that involved important figures that should be in his head, like the number of OTS personnel.
Senator Grace Poe, who had earlier called for Abaya’s resignation over a host of problems at his department, said the airport leadership must use common sense and show compassion in cases where travelers were victimized by the bullet planting syndicate.
She also wanted to know how the airport would help those who lost their jobs because their flights were delayed as a result of the scam.
Abaya told the senators that the government would help Ortinez get her job back if she is found innocent.
Ortinez was about to take a connecting flight from Laoag Airport to Hong Kong on Oct. 25 when she was apprehended.
The Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case against Ortinez on Wednesday for lack of probable cause.
At the same Senate hearing, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta said anybody who will be found in possession of a bullet has no criminal liability if it cannot be proven that there was an intent to possess or use it to hurt others.
During the four-hour hearing, five victims of the bullet planting scam detailed their ordeals at the airport.
American missionary Lane Michael White said they came to the Philippines on Sept. 17 to put up a church on Coron Island, Palawan. He was with his father Ryan and stepmother Eloisa. They all stayed in a hotel and went to Naia Terminal 4 the next day, where a bullet was found in his bag.
He denied knowing about the bullet that security personnel said was discovered by the X-ray machine.
Eloisa told the senators that a certain SPO2 Clarin told her to ask Lane to admit ownership of the bullet, and pay P30,000 to make the case go away. She was also told that if the case reached the police, the amount would be P80,000.
Two members of the Aviation Security Group—Careen De Padua and Rommel Ballesteros—were relieved from their post after the bullet in the investigation report did not match with the one presented to the prosecutors office.
Her lawyer said she did not own the bullet and was a victim of the tanim-bala scam.
Earlier, the same office ordered the release of 12 others arrested at the Naia with bullets in their luggage, citing the lack of probable cause.
In Manila, another possible victim, Luisito Solitario, was ordered released from detention after Prosecutor Edward Togonon found insufficient evidence against him.
Solitario was placed under detention after he was caught carrying a bag with a bullet while he was about to board a boat at the Manila seaport.
“There is a need to subject the recovered bullet to ballistic examination and/or fingerprint lifting to determine its real source and/or owner. Without that, evidence would be insufficient to indict the respondent,” the order said.
On Wednesday, Lane asked the Pasay City regional trial court to dismiss the illegal possession of ammunition case against him.
White’s legal counsel Ernesto Arellano said his client was a victim of the bullet planting scheme.
Arellano said security personnel Maria Elma Cena and Marvin Garcia scanned the baggage of White on the X-ray machine several times until they found a .22 caliber ammunition from its pocket.
“Garcia brought the baggage to the X-ray machine and found a bullet after he used his bare hands [to inspect it],” he said.
Arellano said it was impossible for his client to pass through Florida’s military public airport, Jacksonville Airport, if he had a bullet inside his baggage.
A party-list lawmaker, Angkla Rep. Jesulito Manalo on Thursday called for the designation of special prosecutors at the airport to deal with the bullet planting scam.
The Palace rebuked Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte when he criticized the government’s way of handling the tanim-bala scam at the Naia.
Duterte had called on President Benigno Aquino III to take swift action against the problem.
“All that is being done by the government at the moment is to make the law against this to be as effective as possible,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
“We note that there was a law passed by Congress in 2013, which implements a stricter law or policies against arms and ammunition; and this is the basis for implementing security procedures in airports and seaports in the country,” he added. With Joel E. Zurbano, Rey E. Requejo, Maricel V. Cruz and Sandy Araneta
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