Senate of the Philippines

Senators: Lack of coordination led to alleged NAIA human smuggling

Lance Spencer Yu

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Senators: Lack of coordination led to alleged NAIA human smuggling

OATH. Resource persons take their oath before the start of the senate probe on the alleged human smuggling incident at the NAIA, on February 21, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The Senate probe reveals that police officers had no direct contact with the relevant airport authorities who could stop the flight of a private jet allegedly involved in human smuggling on February 13

MANILA, Philippines – Senators found that a lack of coordination among authorities at the airport grounds was the reason a private plane allegedly involved in human smuggling was able to depart from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on February 13.

“Apparently what is lacking here is the coordination between PNP and the security group and the control tower,” said Senator Francis Tolentino, who chaired the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on Tuesday, February 21.

The committee hearing comes after Senator Grace Poe had earlier revealed that airport authorities were unable to stop “unauthorized individuals” from boarding the Dubai-bound private jet. 

Senate probes alleged ‘human trafficking’ in private jet flight at NAIA

Senate probes alleged ‘human trafficking’ in private jet flight at NAIA

Before special flights are allowed to take-off from NAIA, they must undergo a security inspection by the Philippine National Police (PNP) – Aviation Security Unit NCR (AVSEU NCR). Colonel Rhoderick Campo, chief of the AVSEU NCR, was on the airport grounds that evening.

But during the February 13 incident, Campo said AVSEU inspectors were unable to conduct the inspection because the aircraft door closed before they had the chance to enter.

When senators asked why Campo and his team did not assert their authority as police officers, what followed was a back-and-forth passing of blame.

Campo said that he did not have direct line of contact with the pilot. When the aircraft closed its doors and entered flight mode, Campo said it was only the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) control tower which could communicate directly with the pilot. 

However, CAAP Air Traffic Service Assistant Director General Marlene Singson was adamant and that “no one received a call from Manila Control Tower po from the group of PNP-AVSEC.”

It turned out that Campo had instead called Dionisio Robles, the acting intelligence and investigation division chief of CAAP. 

Campo asked Robles to contact the control tower and hold the flight. Robles insisted that Campo get in touch with the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) instead.

Pre, makipagcoordinate ka sa MIAA kasi jurisdiction nila ‘yan. Nasa ground pa ‘yung eroplano during that time,” Robles said he told Campo, emphasizing that CAAP had no involvement with operations on the tarmac.

(Hey, coordinate with the MIAA because that’s their jurisdiction. The plane is still on the ground during that time.)

Robles then reached out to Manuel Gonzales, MIAA’s assistant general manager for security and emergency services, to prevent the aircraft from leaving. But he couldn’t reach Gonzales.

Gonzales admitted to the senators that he only saw the texts and missed calls from Robles the next morning.

Senator Raffy Tulfo criticized Campo’s lack of direct contact with the relevant authorities, saying that these communication gaps were what allowed the flight to slip through.

Ba’t ka pa kailangan dumaan sa kanya? Rekta ka na dapat kung sino pwedeng makausap para pigilan ang eroplano. Were you not given that responsibility, that authority? Kailangan mo pa dumaan dito kay general Robles?” Tulfo said. “Ang daming dinadaan na proseso, ayan tuloy, nagkaroon ng lusutan.

(Why do you need to pass through him? You should have gone straight to whoever could stop the plane. Were you not given that responsibility, that authority? You still need to pass through general Robles? You need to pass through so many processes, now look, they slipped through.)

This was not the first time that this happened at the NAIA. In December 2022, a private flight with dnata as its ground handler also took off without undergoing a security inspection.

Lapses and anomalies

Aside from the miscommunication, senators also spotlighted other anomalies in that February 13 incident. For instance, Poe noted that the PNP exit clearance only listed six passengers, but the Bureau of Immigration’s general declaration form included one additional passenger whose name was just handwritten on the form.

The immigration officer on duty, Glenn Juban, confirmed that he had handwritten the additional seventh passenger onto the form. Still, the immigration officer claimed that he double-checked the passenger’s clearance.

But Poe also mentioned that there was another “mystery immigration officer” who escorted passengers to the private flight, even if he was not the immigration officer on duty that evening. Juban identified the other immigration officer as a Jeff Pinpin. Juban said Pinpin helped him in checking the clearances of the passengers. However, the committee has yet to establish exactly why Pinpin was present in the area. 

Poe also questioned why there were so many individuals in the so-called security restricted area that evening. Although there were clearly more than seven people around the plane, it remained unclear how many of them boarded the flight and how many were merely “well-wishers.”

Poe had earlier said that a video of the incident showed other “Asian looking nationals” attempting to board the aircraft, before being “stunned” after they saw that they were being filmed.

The individual who took the video, who was not readily identifiable during the Senate probe, told senators that he saw eight passengers board the plane, one more than the seven passengers declared in the flight manifest in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Dubai International Airport reported that only seven passengers arrived, raising more questions about the plane’s actual passenger count.

Some anomalies still remained unanswered, such as whether the flight’s ground handler – Globan Aviation Services Corporation – was involved in the alleged human smuggling scheme. Senators had earlier pointed out Globan was also the ground handler for the flight of Pharmally executives Mohit and Twinkle Dargani when they were arrested at the Davao International Airport.

Senator Tolentino said that further hearings on the matter will be conducted. –

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.