OFW from dubai
OFWs returning to work in Dubai were seen with every single luggage in cling wrap and packaging tape. This is the new norm for departing passengers at NAIA. Photo by Carol Tanjutco

NAIA, Philippines – Returning overseas filipino workers (OFW) are gripped by fear as they line up inside the international airport security screening in NAIA where incidents of the “laglag bala” scam have been reported.

The laglag-bala or bullet scam is a scheme conducted by corrupt airport employees to extort money to unsuspecting passengers.The blame is pointed to personnel of the Office of Transportation Security (OTS) who’s in charge of airport inspection and X-ray machine stations.

According to NAIA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, there is no clear evidence of a syndicate involved in the bullet planting scam. Instead, he said that this year’s incident and arrests are lower compared to the previous years. He admitted that the scam has been around for many years now.

Cling-wrapped baggage
Passengers waiting for their flights at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 3 go to great lengths to protect their luggage by having these wrapped in plastic to prevent anyone from planting bullets (“tanim-bala”) in their baggage. Photos by Grig C. Montegrande

The modus operandi was uncovered and exploded in social media because of the first case charging the OTS about the scam. Possession of bullets is a serious offense and can put the traveler into a lengthy prosecution. This is the biggest fear of OFW’s and foreigners who may have to stay over and lose their jobs abroad.

Wrapping services have become a booming business in NAIA. Some passengers take steps to buy their own cling-wrap and packaging tapes, or use “clam-type sealed luggage.

Here are a few tips from legal experts:

  • If an OTS personnel request to open your luggage, the traveler must request witnesses or if possible a police officer to be present during the search.
  • Ask the baggage inspectors to show empty hands to make sure that nothing is concealed in their hands.
  • keep a keen eye on your luggage while undergoing X-ray screening.
  • Do not sign any document and demand an attorney to represent you.
  • The accused doesn’t have to make statements or answer any questions during the investigation, unless assisted by a lawyer.
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