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The Philippine Airport Laglag-Bala Extortion Scandal
If you are flying from the USA to Manila, Philippines, you endure at least a 12 hour flight. So, the last thing anyone flying into or out of the Manila International Airport wants is to be extorted by a security officer trying to make money on the side. The incidents have been increasing by security personnel and both locals and foreigners are targeted.
The scam is simple. Somehow, a bullet or two is planted inside your baggage that will be scanned or the security person will simply pull you over and claim that a bullet has been spotted in your luggage as it went through the scanning machine. At that point, you are shaken up and maybe don't want to miss your flight. The security person will then state that if pay anywhere between 1000-80000 pesos ($25-1700) the security will waive the violation!
If you refuse, like one American missionary did, you will be detained for 4-6 days at the airport. During that time, you will be threatened that if you fail to pay, you may get arrested and jailed for violating Philippine law about carrying ammunition without a permit. In the case of the American who refused to pay, he was detained for four days. At first, the extortion was 20000 peso ($450), by the third day, it had dropped to 10000 peso. On the fourth day, the security person let him go with no charge. Of course, he missed connecting flights etc. It has happened to a Filipina leaving to America, to a Japanese tourist who had vacationed there and was catching his flight home, and even to a woman in wheel chair!
This seems to happen with only carry-on baggage. What can you do if it happens?
- Ask to speak to a supervisor before the bag is searched
- Do not touch a bullet. Whoever planted it will leave their fingerprints on it.
- Threaten to call the police and have the bullet fingerprinted
- Call the US Embassy (US Citizens) at 301-2000 ext. 2246
- Demand to see the scan photo of your luggage. There is a photo of it as it passes through a scanner
- Refuse to sign any confession-like statement
- No police person can set a bail for release, only a judge a can. So, if the officer asks for money for your release, it is extortion even in the Philippines
- Make search the bag search is conducted in front of you and a supervisor
- Wrap your bag in clingy plastic wrap that will make it hard to plant a bullet in the bag
- Use a suitcase with no outside pockets and if there are, lock the zipper
- If you can, do not have a carry on bag
- Avoid using a porter (who could be part of team and plants the bullet)
Luggage that is checked in at the ticket counter seems never to be targeted because once checked in, the bag is scanned with many others and put on the plane. The owner of the bag is unknown. Now, the Philippine House of Representatives is set to conduct a probe into the incidents, which are threatening to become a national embarrassment. Most incidents where bullets happened at an initial screening area where large items of luggage are processed.
Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport was ranked the world’s worst airport from 2011 to 2013, it remains in that position for a variety of reasons, but this new crime now has caught the attention of the government and 40 security officers have been arrested.