End the controversy and the shame
In Section 28, Article V on Penal Provisions, of the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act, it is provided that “the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period shall be imposed upon any person who shall unlawfully acquire or possess ammunition for a small-arms Class-A light weapon.” A Class-A light weapon such as a pistol, rifle, or carbine is one not exceeding caliber 7.62 mm.
This means a prison sentence of six years and one day to eight years. The prison term increases with the caliber, so that a bullet for a Class-B light weapon such as a heavy machine gun would mean a penalty of maximum 10 years and one day to 12 years.
Informed of such dire prospects, and told that a bullet has been found in his/her luggage, a departing passenger at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) would be open to suggestions – such as paying $100 to have the issue set aside. This, it has been alleged, was the experience of some travellers at NAIA in what has become known as the “tanim-bala”scam.
Administration officials have sought to minimize an incident involving an Ilocos Norte OFW as an “isolated case.” Secretary Joseph Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communication said that of 34.2 million travellers who passed through NAIA last year, “only 0.004 percent” – 1,510 people – were found to be carrying bullets.
But the idea that a 56-year-old OFW would keep a carbine bullet in her luggage taxes belief. Or that a 65-year-old grandmother, going to Singapore with her daughter to watch her grandson play in a soccer competition, would keep a .9mm bullet in her bag. There is no stopping people from believing that there is indeed an extortion racket going on, preying on unwary travellers.
Thus hundreds of departing passengers have taken to wrapping their bags in plastic – to keep anyone from inserting a bullet in them. The suspicion is on those manning the x-ray machines at the airport, but the porters have also suffered; departing passengers have chosen to carry their own bags and not entrust them to porters.
Stories about the airport scam have been reported by BBC, Fox News, Time, and the New York Times. Even the United Nations issued a memorandum to all UN personnel to watch their baggage closely when at the NAIA. The “tanim-bala” cases may be isolated ones, they may constitute less than one-thousandth of a percent, but they have dealt a big blow to the country’s reputation.
In Hong Kong and other airports, security men also check the luggage of departing passengers. If they find a small knife with one’s keys, they simply ask the passenger to give it up. It has been suggested that airport security at NAIA just confiscate any bullet found on any passenger. After all, one bullet without a gun poses no danger. In recent days, NAIA security have produced several signed statements by passengers that bullets found on them were just amulets.
This can put an an end to the ongoing “tanim-bala” scare. The National Bureau of Investigation can investigate further to find out if it is indeed true that an extortion racket has been operating at the airport, but in the meantime, just confiscate the bullet – whether planted or not. If, as some officials claim, the law needs to be amended, let this be rushed in Congress. The important thing is that we put an end to this controversy and shame of “tanim-bala.”