AMID a widening scandal over an extortion racket in which bullets are planted in passengers luggage, the Manila International Airport Authority said Friday it would buy P486 million worth of closed-circuit TV cameras under a negotiated contract after two failed biddings.
“Under Republic Act 9184 [Procurement Law], a negotiated mode of procurement may take place after two failed biddings of the standard process,” the MIAA said in a statement.
The three bidders who participated in the latest bidding will be invited to participate in the negotiations, but the specifications—including the installation of 719 CCTV cameras—will remain the same, the statement added.
Miaa opened the bidding process last year but the exercise was scrubbed following an advisory from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines that the CCTVs should not be wireless so as not to interfere with navigational equipment.
Succeeding biddings in August 2014 and February this year were declared failures as bidders were unable to meet certain requirements.
The Miaa on Friday also said that it has no project in which X-ray machines are bundled with CCTVs, in response to reports that it still owed a winning bidder half of the contract amount for the bundle.
The 382 CCTVs installed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport are all fully paid, airport officials said.
Lawmakers earlier suggested that Naia install additional CCTV cameras to catch airport personnel allegedly involved in the tanim-bala scam to extort money from unsuspecting passengers.
The Palace on Friday said it was still awaiting the results of the tanim-bala probe by the National Bureau of Investigation.
“Again, what is important is that the President has already given instructions to these agencies that all operate inside the airport… to take corrective measures to address this particular issue,” said presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte.
“You have to understand that we have several. You have Miaa, you have OTS (Office for Transportation Security), you have PNP (Philippine National Police) Aviation Security Group, you also have DOH (Department of Health) although DOH is largely unaffected by this particular issue,”Valte said.
What is important is that the President has already given instructions for them to take corrective measures to address this particular issue, “ she also said.
Valte also said Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Eilio Abaya had apologized to “one lady in particular” who was a victim of the scam.
“I am not sure if it was si Nanay Gloria,” Valte said, referring to Gloria Ortinez, a 56-year-old overseas worker who was stopped at the airport when baggage inspectors found a bullet in her luggage.
Among the measures already taken was the hands-off policy when luggage is being screened, Valte said.
There is also going to be a “last look” bin that will enable passengers to take a last look at their luggage and get rid of any “insertions” before they undergo screening.
Valte said the government is hopeful these measures will be enough.
Also on Friday, lawmakers criticized OTS officials for allowing four Filipinas to slip past X-ray screeners before they reached Hong Kong, where they were arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle in 2.5 kilos of cocaine.
Valenzuela City Rep. Win Gatchalian said the admission by OTS chief Roland Recamono that he was unaware of the Filipinas’ plight was surprising.
“This is the height of incompetence, if not stupidity. Here our OTS screeners are having a grand time finding bullets in several luggage and yet, they fail to detect the 2.5 kilos of cocaine that also passed through their X-ray machines,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian and several other lawmakers have called for a congressional inquiry into the bullet planting scam.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier confirmed that four Filipinas were arrested--Sheryl Chua, Marilou Thomas, Remelyn Rogue and a dentist identified as Dr. Ana Loella—after arriving in Hong Kong via Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 142 on Sept. 26.
“It is really surprising how 2.5 kilos of cocaine were able to slip past two X-ray machines manned by airport screeners. Even the drug-sniffing dogs failed to do their jobs to detect illegal drugs,” Gatchalian said.
Also on Friday, the Justice Department assigned a prosecutor to the airport to immediately attend to cases involving the bullet planting scheme to help travelers.
Justice Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa told Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to implement measures to speed up the conduct of inquest proceedings, and the weighing of evidence.
“The stationing of the fiscal there (at the airport) is one way for now to shorten the time of going to the fiscal, filing a complaint and determining whether or not a case should be filed at the moment because the passenger can no longer leave,” DOJ spokesman Emmanuel Caparas said.
“We are trying to avoid incidents were passengers are not allowed to take their flights just because a bullet has been found [in their luggage]… It affects the lives of people unnecessarily and unfairly,” he added.
He said the prosecutor could examine the profile of the passenger and make a judgement call.
For example, he said, an elderly woman who had been traveling to and from the country did not fit the profile of someone who would intentionally carry a bullet with her.
“Do you think there is basis to file charges against her? At this point, does she have the intent to possess or malevolent intent to use ammunition?” he said.
However, if the bullet or implement was found taped or stitched in some secret pockets of a bag or luggage, then that is another thing, Caparas said.
At the Senate, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago called on her colleagues to raise the penalty against persons who plant bullets or firearms as part of an extortion scheme.
“The government must send a clear message to these airport syndicates that it will not tolerate these criminal activities and will prosecute those who plant evidence with as much zeal as it pursues those who smuggle firearms and ammunition,” the senator said.
Santiago proposed amending the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act to increase the penalty of planting evidence to 12 years and one day up to 20 years.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano urged the government to get its act together and ensure the general safety of the people amid the growing public fear due to incidents of bullet planting.
“People are afraid. Everyone who goes to our airports is bulletproofing their bags. They feel that if they are victimized, a case will be filed against them before someone listens to them,” Cayetano said. – With Rey E. Requejo, Macon Ramos-Araneta