Extortion of tourists continues at the NAIA, Mr President

Alain Pascua

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Extortion of tourists continues at the NAIA, Mr President
While the Department of Tourism tries so hard to lure tourists, our airport personnel just blow away these efforts through extortion activities
On Friday night, May 30, 2014, Rey Sta Ana and I sent off 5 foreign bird photographer tourist guests to NAIA Terminal 4 for their 8:15 pm Air Asia flight to Shanghai. We had just finished guiding them in their 12-day Philippine Bird Photography Tour in Coron and Puerto Princesa in Palawan, in Mt Makiling in Laguna, in Bangkong Kahoy Valley in Quezon, in Mt Palay-Palay in Cavite, and in the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. 
We thought that the only complaint we had in Terminal 4 was about the security guard detailed at the international departure door/gate. From Lanting Security, he was so strict, a trait that we often appreciate. But he was not people-friendly, and not good as a last impression for foreign tourists leaving the country after their tour.

He was strict in enforcing the no-ticket, no-entry policy given to him (a real cadre of the no-ID no-entry code), and turned away everybody without it. He looked like a battle-hardened soldier who never smiles and was more like a goon who exudes arrogance a mile away. He was like a perimeter guard, and not a tourist reception officer. Anyway, we sent off our guest and just viewed their checking-in via the windows outside.

After sending them off and heading back to Manila, we received a call from one of them informing us that the airport authorities were not allowing him to board the plane because of excess baggage. He was willing to pay the extra baggage, but the airport personnel insisted that he check in his entire hand carry bag because it exceeded the 7-kilogram limit.

Indeed his hand carry bag exceeded the limit because it contained 3 lenses – Canon EF 500mm f/4, 100-400mm zoom, and 20-700mm and two bodies – Canon EOS 1D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3. These were his gears for wild bird photography that must be hand-carried and not checked in, despite exceeding the limit, because these are breakable and sophisticated precision equipment.

BIRD-WATCHERS. They come as tourists but leave as victims of extortion at the airport. Photo by Alain Pascua

As long as the bag conforms with the size specifications, it must be allowed for check-in. But since our guest Mr None Huqiusheng could not speak English, but only Mandarin, and could not explain these matters clearly and thoroughly to the authorities, he was forced to hand over his camera bag for check-in. Being held and not being allowed to proceed to return flight is one big pressure for anyone in a foreign country. 

But the airport authorities would not accept his camera bag without payment, so he gave US$100. They said it was not enough. And then he gave US$200, which they got with his camera bag. No receipts given. Just like that, plain and simple extortion! That was about 7:00 to 7:30 pm of May 30, 2014.

There are 4 possible stages where this extortion could have happened: 1) at the check-in counter with attending Air Asia personnel, 2) at the cashier for excess baggage payment, 3) at the second security check-in of Immigration personnel, and 4) at the tube before entering the plane where personnel usually eye big bags. With all the details provided about date, time, etc. the appropriate government authorities can easily narrow down the personnel involved in this scheme.

As of Saturday morning, Mr Huqiusheng had not yet informed us if he was able to retrieve his camera bag. This is the greater worry, horror rather – not to retrieve the forcibly checked-in camera bag as airport personnel already saw the contents which could amount to more than P1 million. It’s tempting to keep, or could be broken. Either way, the airline usually could not guarantee its handling safety so it usually allows  the passenger to hand carry it as long as the size conforms to standard specifications.

Terminal 3 extortion, too

As this was happening, we were informed by the group’s foreign tour leader that an incident happened on their way to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan last May 22, 2014. At the last security check-in counter at NAIA Terminal 3, the airport personnel ask Mr Zhan Lin Wang to show the contents of his belt bag which he did.

And when the airport personnel saw his small pack of medicines, he was asked to show the prescriptions. The tour leader who was with them explained that the medicines are his daily maintenance meds as he is already 80 years old (Yes, he’s 80 years old and is doing wild bird photography with Nikon D4 and 800 mm lens!) and that he had no prescriptions for those meds.

The airport personnel insisted that he show the same. So when their foreign tour leader asked what they should do, the airport personnel gestured with his thumbs and fingers that could only mean “money.” Stunned by such blatant insinuation, Mr Wang suddenly swallowed his meds and together with the tour leader immediately left the place.

That happened between 3:00-4:00 pm of May 22, 2014. Their flight to Puerto Princesa City was Cebu Pacific 5J638. Again, the government authorities can easily narrow down the identities of the personnel involved, given all these details.

Are these the ways we treat foreign guests? While the Department of Tourism and other travel and tour-related offices, companies, and individuals try so hard to lure tourists to visit our country and provide the best services they can offer while they are here, our airport personnel just blow away these efforts through their extortion activities at the very gates of the country.

We may take our shortcomings and failure to show all or most of our avian treasures to our foreign guests with deep regret, but these extortionist tendencies of our countrymen manning the country’s gates deserve not just public condemnation in the strongest sense, but outright investigation and penalty. 

Let us clean up this mess, Mr. President! Let heads roll. – Rappler.com

Alain Pascua is the co-founder and vice president of the Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines and vice president of Philippine Bird Photography Workshops and Tours.


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