Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are being warned against a heinous bullet scam in Philippine airports. Known in Philippine vernacular as “laglag bala” or “tanim bala,” the scheme involves suspected airport and police officials covertly dropping/planting a single bullet inside passengers’ luggage.
Naturally, when passengers go through Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) security, the bullet will set off an alarm. Victims will be required to pay a fine or face charges of illegal possession of ammunition. To make the scam more believable, those who paid fines were released after authorities supposedly found the bullet as blanks.
According to a 2010 Census, there are about 3.4 million Filipinos in the U.S. With the holidays coming, some of them may be travelling back to the Philippines to spend the occasion with their loved ones and may fall victims to alleged predators at the airport. Such is the fear of Migrante Middle east regional coordinator, John Leonard Monterona.
Speaking with PhilStar, Monterona said the extortion may have been created particularly with the aim of targeting returning OFWs. The extortion is already at stage where it is “quite alarming,” he added.
In September, Filipina Rhed de Guzman was victimized by the bullet scam. She was catching her flight to the U.S. when a security staff approached her. Bound on her wheelchair with three luggage bags, she was an easy prey.
According to a report from The Sydney Morning Herald, cops at the Philippine airport found a .22-calibre bullet in one of her suitcases. The cops threatened that she will end up in Manila jail. However, another cop approached her and said for 500 pesos to be handed to him secretly, she could get away from charges. De Guzman refused to pay and instead exposed the modus operandi for the whole world to know.
The latest victim of the modus operandi is a Filipina domestic helper who was prevented to go back to Hong Kong because a rifle bullet was allegedly found in her luggage. Fifty-six years old Gloria Ortinez was detained because she cannot pay the 80,000-peso bail. Authorities said she had the bullet wrapped in a red cloth and that she uses it as an amulet or charm for good luck. Ortinez had been in and out of the country for 20 years but this was the first time she saw a bullet for a rifle.
Foreign travelers are not safe from the scam, apparently. A Japanese tourist also fell victim but was able to pay bail. American missionary Lane White also refused to pay bribe and instead spent six days in jail. He was only released after paying bail.
Filipinos are now rallying for the local government to investigate and hold everyone liable. They are disgusted about the act of turning a blind eye to officials adamant that their victims indeed carry bullets. Because, really, who brings a single bullet during travel?