The “Tanim-Bala” Controversy

Over the past couple of months, we have been hearing news about the Tanim-Bala Scam in our airports allegedly perpetrated by airport officials in connivance with some members of the police.

 

The modus allegedly involves unscrupulous airport personnel surreptitiously planting bullets inside the handbags or luggage of airport passengers and then upon inspection and arrest will be extorted for money for their release or the dropping of their “case”. It has been reported that this scheme has been going on for the past 3 years. Just this year, almost 1, 400 ammunition-related security cases in airports have been recorded by our transport officials. To make matters worse, most of the victims are overseas Filipino workers. Consequently, Congress, both in the Senate and at the House of Representatives, has filed several resolutions calling for the investigation, in aid of legislation, of these allegations. This is only expected as these revelations have great impact not only in our tourism industry, but more importantly in the welfare of our overseas workers.

 

There are also bills filed in the House of Representatives like the Luggage Surveillance Act and the Passenger Protection Office Act seeking to address this Tanim-Bala controversy. The Luggage Surveillance Act provides for the installation of high-definition surveillance cameras or closed-circuit television system cameras in all baggage checking areas of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in order to prevent the planting of incriminating evidence. On the other hand, the Passenger Protection Office Act establishes a passenger protection office in all major airports in the Philippines. These passenger protection offices shall be composed of public attorneys from the Public Attorneys’ Office who are tasked to provide immediate and adequate legal assistance to passengers who may be victimized by this alleged Tanim-Bala scheme. These proposed bills are laudable but as always, much is to be done to ensure their efficient and consistent enforcement. For our part, we can always call the attention of the particular law enforcement agencies in order to see to it that the laws that we enact are properly implemented.

 

Another possible legislation we can enact could be in the nature of improving the system of accountability of airport officials in supervising their employees. We can do this by imposing administrative sanctions to airport officials who are unable to properly regulate and supervise proper conduct of their own employees. But the best legislative action we can take would be to revisit Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Regulation Act and see if there may be areas we can improve on, and make the necessary adjustments in order to prevent abusive airport personnel from taking advantage of possible loopholes of the law and put an end to the apprehension from harassment of our airline passengers, particularly our overseas workers. The present law imposes penalty upon any person who shall wilfully and maliciously insert, place, and/or attach, directly or indirectly, through any overt or covert act, any firearm, or ammunition in the immediate vicinity of an innocent individual for the purpose of implicating or incriminating a person. The problem however, lies in the fact that it is very difficult, if not almost impossible to catch any person wilfully inserting ammunition in the immediate vicinity of airport passengers.

 

Instead of responding to issues that arise due to poorly managed operations, I believe that priority should rather be given to preventive measures that could hamper the crisis from its roots. By anticipating the cause of the crisis and establishing a well-informed riding public and a cooperative law enforcement group, we would have a more realistic chance of accomplishing our goal.

 

The government has always been consistent in stressing the important contribution of our overseas workers in our modern society and we have always prioritized their proper recognition for their invaluable sacrifice for their families in particular and for the entire nation in general. The least we can do is to allow them to return to their families safely, without fear of apprehension and extortion from these Tanim-Bala mercenaries.