If there were an award for the most duplicitous story of the year, it should go to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for its claim that the bullets that are being regularly “discovered” in the luggage of airline passengers have not been planted by so-called security personnel in Philippine airports; they’re carried by people who believe in anting-anting, or amulets.
If one were to believe the PNP fish story, among those who would be guilty of putting their trust in bullet-amulets to assure themselves of a safe journey would be a 77-year old Filipino American who was returning to the US; an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) on her way to a job in Abu Dhabi; a 65-year old grandmother visiting her grandchildren; and a 20-year old American missionary. Bullets of various calibers were supposedly “found” in their luggage and that of several other travellers, causing them to be arrested and detained and to miss their flights.
A close second to the PNP story is the lament of some personnel of the so-called Office of Transportation Security (OTS) over their being “demonized” and “humiliated.” These worthies have been complaining to the media that, for example, they’ve been threatened in Facebook, and are being persecuted even in the communities where they live. They whine that this is the thanks they get for protecting the public from terrorism. One said they’re hurt by the sight of airline passengers wrapping their bags in plastic and packing tape as a means of protecting their luggage from them.
One can grant the validity of these complaints, and one can only hope that not everyone in the OTS is involved in what– despite government attempts to dismiss the bullet-planting instances as no more than isolated incidents– nevertheless looks like another racket in this country of misplaced ingenuity.
If not everyone in the OTS is involved in that extortion scam, it’s a fair assumption that it involves at least some of them, which accounts for the public outrage everyone in OTS is supposedly reaping. And has it ever occurred to these self-proclaimed icons of public service that being reviled on Facebook is nothing compared to being accused in real time of a crime, arrested, detained, prevented from taking their flights and—in the case of OFWs—consequently losing one’s job?
The reality, ladies and gentlemen of the OTS, the PNP, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), and the Office of the President, is that nobody believes that these are “isolated incidents,” and that there’s no bullet-planting scheme that’s been operating at the NAIA since only God and the perpetrators know when.
But what is equally true is that the Aquino administration, by minimizing the incidents in the same way that it has been minimizing the killing of journalists, is beginning to look like the coddler and protector of these scoundrels, who make it a point to victimize the OFWs who’re keeping the economy afloat, and anyone else, whether foreigner or Filipino, who’s likely to have the dollars and yen they covet.
The year 2016 being an election year, even some of Benigno Aquino III’s allies are distancing themselves from the administration’s “isolated incidents” nonsense and the tepid response (more CCTV cameras, for example) of DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who’s running for vice president, and a slew of organizations and individuals, have also seized the moment by filing a complaint before the Ombudsman against the same Abaya, Manila International Airport Authority general manager and Aquino III cousin Jose Angel Honrado, OTC administrator Rolando Recomono, and PNP-Aviation Security Group director Pablo Francisco Balagtas. They’re urging the Ombudsman to investigate these sterling examples of public service for possible criminal liability and negligence in connection with the bullet-planting conspiracy at NAIA.
Maybe they shouldn’t have bothered. The Aquino administration will very likely pressure the Ombudsman to absolve its bureaucrats from blame, since any finding to the contrary will be an indictment of the administration—and will have a bearing on the presidential ambitions of Manuel “Mar” Roxas II. Roxas has after all made it his life’s ambition to be another Aquino III, and has repeatedly declared that he intends to follow the latter’s so-called “daang matuwid,” and public outrage will rub off on him. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Ombudsman will bend over for Aquino III, but even the most strong-willed can stand only so much pressure.
The elections and the fate of Roxas aside, however, the fact is that the administration has made it its life career to play down as either isolated or exaggerated even the worst instances of corruption and lawlessness that have continued during its mediocre watch despite its grandiose claims.
Over the last five years, for example, it has dismissed in action as well as words the killing of journalists as exaggerated and practically of no consequence. Mr. Aquino has even made it a point to attack the press at every opportunity, while his PNP flunkies proclaim that not all of the journalists killed during the last five years were “real” journalists, or were killed for their work, as if either made a difference in terms of the lawlessness and impunity that have attended his clueless watch.
Another journalist was shot to death only last October 31st in Quezon City, pushing the number of those killed for their work since Mr. Aquino became president to 30, or an average of six per year, even as the murders and assassinations of human rights defenders, political activists, and lately, Lumad leaders and teachers, continue unabated.
Only a handful of the cases of journalists killed has been resolved, and only partly, while the killings, the torture, the illegal arrests and detention in many areas of the Philippine countryside rage like an Indonesian forest fire, while those responsible literally get away with murder.
If impunity, or the exemption from punishment of wrong-doers, reigns in the wake of the killing of journalists and other Filipinos, so does impunity reign as well in those cases of official wrong-doing such as the misuse of pork barrel funds, the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program, the ghost flood control projects, the theft of MRT-LRT maintenance funds, and the disappearance of Yolanda relief and rehabilitation donations, for which offenses no one except opposition people has been prosecuted. To this list the bullet-planting scheme in the country’s airports is likely to be just one more addition as everyone accountable scurries around like rats to prevent their being prosecuted.
In the reign of impunity the killers of journalists and the most corrupt bureaucrats are beyond accountability, and are figuratively bulletproof. The victims of bullet-planting, as well as journalists and media workers, Lumad leaders and teachers, human rights defenders, and social and political activists who’re being shot in city and countryside are quite literally not as invincible.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
Published in Business World
Nov. 5, 2015