sec. abaya tanim balaIt is distressing to read statements of Philippine government officials on a new scam, the so-called “tanim bala,” at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Instead of assuring the public that decisive action is being taken to stop the “bullet planting” extortion scheme that has already victimized at least five travelers, the concerned government officials are making statements which are either ambivalent or ambiguous or nonsensical.          

We are referring particularly to statements made by Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya, secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), in connection with the case of overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Gloria Ortinez, 56 years old, who allegedly had a bullet in her hand-carry bag while she was being screened before her flight to Hong Kong.

In a press briefing held on Nov. 4, 2015, Secretary Abaya said, “I believe Gloria Ortinez is innocent but it is hard for officials to turn a blind eye when a bullet is found in her baggage.”

It is a typical comment of traditional politicians. It is gobbledygook or talking without saying anything. 

It could hardly appease overseas Filipinos who had denounced the scam through the social media. If indeed Abaya believes Ortinez is innocent, he should have at least issued a scathing memo to the airport manager or ordered the temporary relief of the concerned personnel pending results of an investigation on the matter.   

It seems that he is more inclined to give credence to the statement of the involved airport personnel than that of Ortinez who had denied ownership of a Carbine bullet wrapped in red cloth. She said that she would never bring a bullet to Hong Kong because she knows that Hong Kong has strict security laws.

Ortinez is just one of at least five people victimized by “tanim bala” extortionists at the pre-departure area. Two foreigners and two OFWs — one of them a woman “balikbayan” from Los Angeles – had earlier complained about the scam. The complainants were about to depart from Manila when they were questioned about the alleged presence of bullets in their hand-carry baggage.

Secretary Abaya urged citizens to file complaints so that the government can take action because it is “hard for our enforcers to act on gossips.”

For practical reasons, several OFWs victimized by the scammers did not file complaints. Instead, they preferred to cough up money to the unscrupulous personnel of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) because if they go through the rigmarole of filing complaints, they would certainly miss their flight.

Asked for his reaction to calls for him to resign, Abaya said, “Kung makakasira sa imahe ng daang matuwid, kami mismo aalis (If this tarnishes the image of ‘daang matuwid,’ we ourselves would resign.)”

Again, Abaya was talking nonsense. Scams at the airport, including the theft of goods in passengers’ luggage, have long blackened the image not only of NAIA but also the whole Aquino administration.          

In the same press briefing, the DOTC secretary said that NAIA has been upgraded from being the world’s worst airport because the government has “addressed structural concerns by renovating it.”

Mr. Secretary, you may have a beautiful airport but if you don’t place those extortionists and thieves behind bars, the image of NAIA – and for that matter, the whole country — would be permanently tarnished.

Although we are disappointed by his remarks about the scam, we still believe that if there is anyone who can institute reforms at the country’s premiere airport, it would be Abaya.

He is not only a lawyer but also a graduate of the US naval academy in Annapolis. He is likewise a former congressman of Cavite. When it comes to “uncommon courage” and love of country, we believe he has the DNA.

A son of PC Colonel (ret.) Plaridel Abaya (who is a native of Ilocos Sur), he is a direct descendant of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who led the fight for freedom against Spain. His mother is a great granddaughter of the first president of the Philippine Republic.

Here is our unsolicited advice, Mr. Secretary: You would not succeed in ridding the airport of undesirable elements if you continue to issue ambivalent, ambiguous or nonsensical statements. Your tendency to make such public pronouncements is severely eroding your credibility. You need solid credibility to be able to clean the Aegean stable, which is the NAIA.