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Palace: 'Laglag-bala' allegations need to be validated

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Amid international and local uproar over the alleged "laglag-bala" (dropping of bullets into bags) scheme in Manila airports, President Benigno Aquino III met with officials from the Department of Transportation and Communication on Monday, November 2.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the President gave "further instructions" to the DOTC "to refine the efforts underway."

Lacierda, however, refused to give specific details on the government’s next plan of action, saying the DOTC is the lead agency that is tasked to inform the public. 

 

"There are allegations of planting of bullets. You know the President's attitude toward a problem, you have always heard me say this not only from me but also from the other spokespersons, that the President's approach to any problem would be the correct identification of the problem leads to the correct identification of the solution. So we are casting a wide net on the data, on the process and areas for improvements. So, all of that will be tackled by the DOTC," Lacierda said in a press briefing same day.

Lacierda says there are many assumptions reported in the media that have to be verified first.

Citing the case at least 5 times to further his point, Lacierda said a Japanese tourist caught with a bullet in NAIA eventually admitted he accidentally brought it from a shooting range.

"Because we only have…. What media is reporting is only a few. There’s a…that’s why the President wants to cast a wide net. Let’s look at the entire picture. It’s only been…. Let’s correctly identify the problem," Lacierda said.

Aside from Lacierda, other officials present during the meeting were Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Undersecretary Manolo Quezon, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Sarmiento, Secretary Julia Abad of the Presidential Management Staff, and Manila International Airports Authority General Manager Jose Angel Honrado.

Also present were DOJ Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez, and Chief Superintendent Pablo Francisco Balagtas of the Aviation Security Group.

'No detachment'

The Palace also denied belittling the experiences of victims of "laglag-bala" allegations, even as Filipinos on social media and some foreign media, such as TIME and BBC, have criticized airport officials.

“Let us not make any judgment. We are looking into it. We are having a hard look at the situation on the allegations of bullet planting,” Lacierda said.

The mere fact Aquino asked for a meeting, he said, is a sign of the President’s concern.

"We are not being detached. In fact, the fact that the President called for a meeting shows his concern for what is happening there and he wants to make sure – he wants to verify and validate all the assumptions that have been put out in media. We are just being thorough and we want a thorough look at the whole situation so that proper solutions can be given and these are long-term solutions that can be put in place," he said.

Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a press briefing last week that the issue should be put in context – that only few are supposedly victimized compared to the thousands who pass through the airport every day.

Over the weekend, DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya had ordered an investigation into the matter. 

The DOTC chief said his agency is studying the structure of the aviation security, setting up additional closed circuit televisions (CCTV), changing handling procedures, and heightening the investigation on the alleged scam. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

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 camille.elemia@rappler.com

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