MANILA, Philippines – Amid recent spike in the number of cases of airport security personnel allegedly planting bullets in passengers' bag to extort from them, the Philippine president's office is looking into the possibility of bullets being used as amulets by passengers.
“Without pre-empting [the investigation], yes, there have been reports of bullets being considered as amulets.... I don’t share that cultural thing of bringing amulets, but I understand a number of people do consider bullets as amulets. So that’s also being looked into,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing on Tuesday, November 3.
Lacierda earlier said allegations of laglag-bala or bullet-planting scheme must be validated first before the government takes the necessary long-term actions.
The angle of plane passengers supposedly carrying bullets because they consider them as anting-anting or agimat (amulet) would fit in the alleged modus of the airport syndicate, however.
On Tuesday, the National Bureau of Investigation received the first complaint related to the alleged scheme. The alleged victim, Josie Marie Paz Trias, 34, said that upon the supposed discovery of a bullet in her bag on October 27, a senior airport staff approached her and allegedly said, "Let us just fix this."
Trias supposedly told the female officer that she was willing to go to jail because she was innocent. She was then made to sign a logbook, already filled out with a prepared report that said she was carrying the bullet as an amulet.
While Lacierda earlier denied Malacañang was being soft on the issue, he repeatedly cited the case of an arrested Japanese tourist, who eventually admitted he accidentally brought the bullet from the shooting range to the airport.
Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma also said last week that the issue, already receiving both local and international attention, should be put in context – that only few are supposedly victimized compared to the thousands who pass through the airport every day.
The Aviation Security Group (AvSecGroup) first mentioned the possibility of bullets being brought as amulets at a press briefing on Monday.
AvSecGroup spokesman Superintendent Jeanne Panisan pointed to the possibility of passengers simply not knowing bullets were in their bags or the Filipino belief in agimat.
She did admit, however, that cases have spiked recently, not because of the alleged scheme but primarily because of more well-trained and efficient screeners.
In 2013, only 21 cases were recorded. It dropped in 2014, when only 12 cases were recorded but spiked in 2015 – 30 cases have been recorded from January to early November. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org