Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya of the Department of Transportation and Communications is again at the center of another scandalous issue – after the MRT/LRT breakdowns and mishaps – this time for the laglag or tanim bala scam. The scam involves the planting of bullets in passengers’ bags then extorting money from them to avoid being charged for the supposed offense.
Abaya has been complaining that the issue has been ‘blown out of proportion’ and cited statistics that only 1,510, or .004 percent, of the 32.4 million passengers who passed through the country’s four airport terminals were arrested for alleged possession of live bullets.
But again, Abaya misses the point. The point is not the number of passengers affected as compared to the total number of passengers who have used the country’s airport terminals. The reason that this issue has been generating so much protests and has been making the headlines in the past seven weeks or so is because of the Aquino government’s attempts to downplay the issue and its apparent inclination to drag its feet in addressing it. All government officials involved including Abaya, Manila International Airport Authority general manager Jose Angel Honrado, the Aviation Security Group (Avsegroup), and Office of Transportation Security administrator Roland Recomono have been denying that the problem exists. Even Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas, who once headed the Department of Transportation and Communications, contributed to the seeming cover up by claiming that the issue was just highlighted to put the administration, and the ruling party, in a bad light.
Malacañang has also been downplaying the issue. It said during the last week of September and again six days ago, that the laglag bala extortion scheme is an isolated incident. Only after his administration received a lot of flak and an organization of overseas Filipinos Migrante International threatened to launch protests against the government’s inaction, did President Aquino order an investigation. And yet Malacañang has remained deaf to calls to hold accountable and remove Abaya, Honrado, Recomono, and the head of the Avsegroup.
The more the Aquino government downplays, nay dismisses, the issue, the more it generates a lot of fire, especially since its denials appear to have emboldened the perpetrators even more as so many cases have been reported in the past few days.
Strange are the cases where the supposed passengers admitted to bringing the bullets; one even had a gun to go with it. Why would anyone do so after all the headlines about the scam? Are these meant to muddle the issue?
With the Aquino government’s handling, or rather lack of it, of the laglag bala scam, as well as the attacks on and killings of the Lumad, one could not help but wonder if the problem is the Aquino government’s incompetence or an issue of impunity. After all the Philippines has gained infamy for the killings of journalists, environmental defenders and activists. The government has also been known for turning a blind eye and a deaf ear in corruption cases involving President Aquino’s favored Cabinet officials.
Is this laglag bala scam, which, at first glance, appears to be the handiwork of a small-time syndicate in the country’s airport, a reflection of the impunity in corruption, as well, under the Aquino government? If it could not or would not run after seeming small time crooks preying on ordinary passengers, how could we ever expect it to run after big time crooks in government? Or perhaps the big time crooks are only protecting their kind.