Filipino expats, OFWs angry, embarrassed over ‘laglag-bala’
SAN FRANCISCO—Expatriates expressed anger and embarrassment over the “laglag bala” scam plaguing passengers entering the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, even as President Benigno S. Aquino III tried to assuage travelers’ fears of being victimized.
The president ordered Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Jose Emilio Abaya to lead the investigation of the scam that has drawn the attention of even foreign news outlets, to the detriment of Philippine image abroad just as the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) is to formally open in Manila soon.
The scam involves airport security personnel allegedly planting bullets in the bags of unsuspecting international passengers to extort money in exchange for the dropping of charges.
“The response that Malacanang has issued (‘only a few travelers out of thousands have been victimized’) in downplaying the issue is a clear indication of the government’s apathy to the issue. It shows how unconcerned, undismayed, unruffled, and unfazed they are,” blurted Ces Tiamzon-Infante, who is based in Anaheim, California.
“Yes, it may only be a small percentage but nevertheless, it instills fear to every Filipino residing outside the Philippines who are planning to come home. What if I’m the next victim? Such response, plus the fact that NOBODY has been sacked yet reflects the government’s inability to stop crime and corruption, Infante added.
‘When I first came here I was always proud to say I am a Filipino. Now I am embarrassed to say I am a Filipino. I am often mistaken to being a Vietnamese and I am now about to say yes I am a Vietnamese and not a Filipino,” Infante fumed.
“Before I often tell my non-Filipino friends to visit the Philippines for I believe we have the best beaches in the world. But I stopped. This is the clear effect of the laglag-bala. Tourism will truly take a beating and suffer. My blood is boiling while I write this,” Tiamzon-Infante said.
Malolos-bred Carol Marcelino of Illinois is similarly enraged that the issue came up just as the Philippines is still struggling to create a good image for other countries to recognize and emulate as Filipinos from all over the world are trying their darndest best to succeed- because success is not only for themselves but for the country as well.
“But when you hear stories like this tanim-bala at the NAIA, it pushes you back, a thousand steps, from waving the Filipino flag with pride and dignity,” Marcelino stated. “The message being delivered to the hardworking balikbayan is that the OFWs and Balikbayans are not heroes but ‘palagatasan’ (milking cows). This is a punishment and a hate crime against hardworking Filipinos by pathetic, lowlife people who prey on their own kababayan.”
Marcelino further urged NAIA officials to be more proactive rather than reactive while vigilance among the Balikbayans is the only way to resolve the issue with their phone cameras handy, ready to take pictures or videos to document any wrongful activities.
“There is really no place like home, but it is so sad that OFWs or balikbayans have to go through these unnecessary inconveniences when going home to the Philippines. The smile that stretches from ear to ear when the plane lands on the Philippine soil is suddenly replaced by worried face lines that they might fall victim to this modus operandi,” Marcelino maintained.
TV producer Arnold Pedrigal of Union City, California, also thinks that the current state of tourism in the Philippines will be negatively affected as the inability of any government to secure the safety of its own people will undermine the confidence of foreign visitors and expats.
“This latest issue simply brings the message of lack of concern and lack of apathy by the Philippine government for the OFWs and what they have done is far definitely is not good enough,” Pedrigal claimed.
“Solving this problem is critical to the ongoing efforts of the country to grow its economy. While the nation has seen positive increase in its GDP, security-related problems such as the NAIA bullet scam are detrimental as it will affect the overall image of the country to the potential investors,” Pedrigal added.
Sampaloc, Manila resident Leo Baltazar of Texas also felt that the authorities were doing a shabby job.
“Corruption is using the law to perpetuate it and this scheme is a 20-year-old racket that was perfected through the years.There should be an investigation on all the bullets that were confiscated all these years to check if there is a similar source,” Baltazar asserts
William Boral and his family from Oxnard, California, are traveling back to the Philippines. He raised a rhetorical question: “Why would someone meaning to do harm have only one bullet? Common sense tells me that it should be confiscated and then just let the passenger through.”
“My family and I are traveling through NAIA this coming December. It’s not fair for us travelers to have to worry about something moronic in addition to the already existing challenges of traveling.”
A Hong Kong OFW, who asked that his name be withheld, warned that “everyone should also guard against possible hysteria over ‘laglag-bala’ so as not be fooled by those really doing it and claiming it was just planted.”
“This could be prevented by addressing the larger issue which needs to be addressed– security and improvement of airport facilities including the installation of adequate functioning closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras to know who is telling the truth, while discouraging people from engaging in illegal activities. We should focus on the larger issues of security and improved facilities plus professional and dedicated staff and officials,” the OFW argued.
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