PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III insisted Sunday that the scandal over a racket that plants bullets in luggage to extort money from travelers passing through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport has been blown out of proportion, as only a handful of 34 million passengers have complained about the scam.
At a “Coffee Meeting with the Media” at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aquino said the alleged victims of the scam were only a small segment of the millions who go through the country’s main gateway.
“For every 10 persons who entered the airport, how many were victimized? Two or three? I don’t think so. This was just sensationalized and there are those benefitted from this being sensationalized,” Aquino said.
Among the 34 million passengers passing through Naia every year, only about 1,200 have been apprehended for carrying bullets, Aquino said.
Among these, only three of the passengers have complained that airport officials asked them for money to avoid detention and charges, he added.
“Can we say that the probability is high? Three out of 34 million?” Aquino said.
Aquino said the public should await the results of investigation before hastily concluding that the alleged scam is indeed rampant at the Naia.
“We must first find proof, one way or the other, prove what is right. And once it is proven, isn’t it whoever is guilty, the person should be punished? If there are innocent people, the stigma must be removed [from them],” Aquino said.
Aquino also reiterated the need for thorough baggage inspection at airports, citing cases were prohibited items were confiscated, including guns, grenades, knives and brass knuckles.
The National Bureau of Investigation has until this week to complete its report on the alleged extortion racket.
The Justice Department earlier designated at least one public prosecutor at the Naia to handle bullet-related complaints.
On Monday, a Catholic bishop joined the growing number of people calling for the ouster of Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado, a close associate of the President, over the bullet-planting scandal.
“People that are incompetent need to be replaced. There are many reasons why the Naia has been judged as the world’s worst airport. Now, isn’t that enough proof of incompetence?” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo in a message posted in the official website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
On Friday, the bishop also signed a petition on the global online platform Change.org calling on the President to fire Honrado and put an end to the “tanim-bala” scam.
The petition by Filipino migrants’ rights watchdog Migrante International blasted Honrado’s failure to resolve the scam which has victimized many travelers, including tourists and overseas Filipino workers.
The group added that airport chief’s dismal performance also resulted in the poor maintenance of airport facilities, clogged runways, and the lack of surveillance equipment.
To date, the three-week-old petition has already gathered around 11,870 signatories. With Sara Susanne Fabunan