Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Monday demanded the resignation of Office for Transportation Security chief Ma’O Aplasca for failing to stop repeated “nefarious activities” by security personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
“I am advising the OTS chief: submit your courtesy resignation before the House of Representatives tackles the budget of your office,” Romualdez said in a statement.
“Mag-resign ka na. Kung hindi ka magsa-submit ng resignation, ako mismo ang magba-block ng approval ng budget ng OTS (You better resign, otherwise i will personally block the approval of the budget of the OTS),” he added.
The House leader aired his frustration over Aplasca in the wake of reports of the latest report of theft of money by a female OTS security scanner from a departing Chinese tourist.
He said the OTS chief should submit his courtesy resignation under the principle of command responsibility, to make way for full revamp at the airport security office.
“The OTS chief is on strike three. We are already fed up with these reports of stealing and other acts of wrongdoing at the airport, for which OTS officials and their DOTr (Department of Transportation) supervisors are ultimately responsible. A top-to-bottom overhaul is needed,” he said.
“We cannot let these atrocious activities and other acts of misconduct at the airport to continue to take place. It’s bad for the country and the economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, another OTS security screening officer at NAIA has been dismissed for opening a passenger’s bag and taking two packs of chocolates, which he claimed the tourist gave him.
In a related development, a former Immigration officer implicated in the “pastillas” scam has pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and was fined P5,000 by the anti-graft court.
In a decision promulgated September 21, the Sandiganbayan Seventh Division ordered Asliyah Alonto Maruhom to pay a fine of P5,000 after she pleaded guilty to violating section 7(d) of Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Section 7(d) prohibits public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting gifts in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation or transaction affected by the functions of their office.
Maruhom was one of 49 Immigration officials and one private individual charged before the Sandiganbayan with violating section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) over the so-called “pastillas scam.”
The scam saw 143 mostly Chinese foreigners enter the Philippines as tourists and later work for Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) hubs, each paying Immigration personnel around P10,000.
The crime would have carried a penalty of imprisonment of between 6 years and 1 month to 15 years aside from perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of prohibited interest or unexplained wealth. Thirty-five of the 50 charged pleaded not guilty during arraignment in September last year, including Maruhom.
The Speaker pointed out that a foreigner, whether he is a tourist or a potential investor, gets his first exposure to the Philippines and its people when he encounters a government employee who processes him at the port of entry.
“An ugly incident will certainly leave a discouraging and lasting impression. This is the reason why we should deploy the finest personnel at ports of entry,” he added.
In March this year, when money was stolen from a Thai tourist at NAIA, the leader of the 311-member House of Representatives already recommended a complete revamp of OTS.
He even suggested that the DOTr replace the entire OTS workforce and rehire only those who would pass a strict vetting process based on their honesty, efficiency, and integrity.
OTS and responsible DOTr officials committed to undertake sweeping reforms.
“What has happened to those commitments? Where are the reforms?” Romualdez asked.
He said Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista should closely watch his own backyard.
“Every now and then, we hear of nefarious activities, aviation glitches, power equipment malfunctions and disruptions, and similar nasty things taking place at the airport. There may be people sabotaging him,” he said.