A climate of fear now engulfs overseas Filipino workers because of the “tanim bala” incidents that has placed the livelihood of OFWs like Gloria Ortinez, who was bound for Hong Kong when she was arrested for allegedly carrying a bullet in her luggage. Ortinez has been working in Hong Kong for more than two decades so she knows HK security is very strict, so why she would risk bringing in an old bullet is a big question whose answer would be obvious even to the most dimwitted: she was marked down for a shakedown.
Ortinez was given temporary liberty but her livelihood is now at stake and her name is being put under a negative light. OWWA meantime has been mum about the issue despite the fact that she is a bona fide OFW—not an illegal—who has religiously paid the mandatory contributions to the government agency that’s supposed to look after her welfare.
Our OFW buddies told us they are sick and tired of being looked upon as milking cows, with one even remarking that corrupt airport security personnel must see them as big dollar signs. There’s too many stories about returning or vacationing OFWs being asked for “pasalubong” by these thick-faced employees who think our migrant workers are swimming in dollars. They rummage through the bags of OFWs and get goodies like chocolates or perfumes that are meant for family members and relatives, while the most kupal open the wallet of the worker and take out cash.
These “tanim bala” incidents are earning the ire of many Filipinos just like the controversy before about the OFW balikbayan boxes involving the Customs office. According to OFW advocate Susan Ople, who is seeking a Senate seat in the May 2016 elections, several freight forwarding company owners have told her that their revenues are down by 20 to 30 percent—something that is unheard of considering that it is a peak season.
Joel Longares, who owns Atlas Shippers International, told Ople that from 70 containers in October to November last year, the company’s sales are down to only 50 containers, with some customers voicing their fears that Bureau of Customs personnel might tamper with their boxes. “I see the same climate of fear and trauma prevailing, but this time among NAIA passengers including OFWs who are about to leave the country and those looking forward to their Christmas vacation,” remarked the former labor undersecretary, who also disclosed that some migrant workers are messaging her on Facebook to inform her that they are on their way to NAIA to catch a flight, and just want Ople to know about it so the Ople Center can come to their aid in case something happens to them at the airport.
There is strong suspicion that a “tanim bala” syndicate is operating to extort money—said to be hundreds of thousands every month—from local and foreign travelers who just decide to put up and pay up to avoid the hassle and be able to board their planes. It may look amusing to see OFWs’ bags and luggage wrapped in Saran plastic or packaging tape to “bullet proof” them from corrupt and unscrupulous airport personnel, but it’s a sad commentary to the kind of fear and distrust that is pervading.
Many are calling for an impartial investigation by the NBI into these “tanim bala” incidents and make the culprits accountable. Meantime, Ople is proposing confidence building measures to be put into place to reduce the climate of fear hovering above the NAIA terminal. For one, the heads of the Manila International Airport Authority, the Office for Transportation Security and the PNP Aviation Security Group should take a leave of absence voluntarily—and not wait for the President to tell them so—if they still have an ounce of delicadeza left in their bones. Vice presidential candidate Alan Peter Cayetano, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Network of Independent Travel Agents have lodged a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against MIAA GM Jose Angel Honrado, Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya, OTS Administrator Rolando Recomono and PNP Avsegroup Director Pablo Balagtas. The complaint also asked for the suspension of the said officials.
A full public disclosure on the breakdown and use of airport terminal fees is also being demanded. According to data shared by Ople, the monthly average collection of airport terminal fee is at P327,278,270. Only very few also know that an aviation security fee of P15 is included in domestic passenger service charge. So where does all this money go, and why can’t MIAA even afford to buy and install CCTV equipment in key areas throughout the terminals to ease the minds of travelers?
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