Metro Manila · The Tanim Bala (Bullet Planting) Scam at the Manila Airport - 5 tips to avoid being victimized
The bullet planting scam is a con where unscrupulous airport personnel drop ammunition into the luggage of unsuspecting travelers. These travelers are later extorted for exorbitant amounts of money, according to reports.
The tanim bala scam at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), also known as the laglag bala scam, has gotten a lot of international media attention during the past weeks, with the likes of Time, CNN, the BBC, and FOX reporting about it. News agencies in Japan, Turkey, Greece, and other parts of the world also covered the story both online and on television. Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren called out NAIA’s authorities for targeting international travelers visiting the Southeast Asian nation.
Numerous passengers including foreign nationals were reportedly framed for possession of live ammunition found in their luggage. While reports about the scheme poured in, representatives of the Philippine government told the press that these are “isolated” cases.
The Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSeG) recorded 30 suspected cases of the tanim bala scam from January to November 2015. The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), on the other hand, recorded five alleged cases in the past two weeks.
Tips On How To Avoid Being Victimized By The Scam
1. Have your lawyer’s number on speed dial.
If you are going to the Philippines for the first time, it is a good idea to save the number of the country’s Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). According to PAO’s Persida Acosta, travelers should contact their office if victimized by the scam. Their hotline is 929 9436. If you are calling through a non-Philippine sim, you should dial 632 929 9436.
It is better to have the number of a lawyer you trust though, experts say for your own peace of mind.
2. Don’t let airport officials go through your bags without third party witnesses, your lawyer, and supervising personnel.
Plazo Associates Law’s Joseph Plazo said passengers should practice their legal rights if they are accused of carrying live ammunition in their luggage. Plazo said in an interview with CNN Philippines that passengers victimized by the scam shouldn’t let airport authorities go through their luggage unless in the presence of witnesses, an attorney, and the airport official’s supervisor.
Plazo stressed that passengers should let airport officials go through the luggage to find the alleged live ammunition. "A bullet with none of your fingerprints sheds reasonable doubt on the possession of the said item," Plazo added.
3. You have the right to remain silent.
Every passenger has the right to remain silent. This is to veer oneself away from any admission of guilt possibly forced upon by unscrupulous airport officials. Any statement should be said in the presence of a lawyer.
4. Call your lawyer immediately if you are threatened with detention
Plazo said that if you are detained arbitrarily, you can fight it back by filing a complaint of arbitrary detention. "Habeas corpus is a legal proceeding to obtain liberty,” Plazo said. “The remedy is proper where the rogue authorities have no probable cause nor basis to hold you, while arbitrary detention is a crime equivalent to illegal detention, more popularly known as kidnapping," he added.
5. Prepare your luggage
Travelers are advised to use hard-case luggage complete with heavy duty padlocks, to make it difficult, if not impossible to plant any contraband in your bags. For those who do not want to invest in a hard-case luggage, you can just cover your bag with cling wrap.
Experts also say that it is important to be vigilant and to never leave your belongings in the care of people you do not know. You should also maintain a watchful eye on your luggage especially when they are going through a scan.