What is a “bullet scam?” 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.
When passengers go through NAIA’s security, the bullet will set off an alarm. Victims will then be required to pay fines or face being charged with illegal possession of ammunition.
As reported in part 1 of this report, the scam targets Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) returning for or from vacations. The most recent victim was a 65-year-old grandmother on her way to Singapore. A bullet was found inside her carry-on bag. The grandmother was on her way to watch her 11-year-old grandson play as a member of the Philippine football team for Singa Cup on Nov. 2-6, according to a report from PhilStar. The grandmother refused to open her bag until her lawyer arrived.
Philippine President Benigno Aguino III and Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya promised to look into the matter, according to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. But then again, as it turned out, the bullet scam had been ongoing for 20 years now.
According to a whistleblower who had spoken with ABS CBN on condition of anonymity, the extortion started as far back as twenty years ago and had been victimizing 20 passengers a day. The whistleblower is a widow of an airport security screener who was involved in the bullet scam.
According to the widow, “spotters” work for the airport personnel. These spotters look for passengers who have connecting flights to international or domestic destinations based on addresses written on their luggage. They also prey on those who obviously did not want to be hassled and would choose to pay bribes instead of undergoing investigations. These conspirators distract their victims first while scrupulously planting bullets on their luggage. The widow said the extortionist earned as much as one hundred thousand pesos a day. She added that bullet scam is an open secret at the airport. Airport security screeners get 60 percent of the bribes and spotters get 40 percent.
In case you find yourself victim of the bullet scam at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the Pinoy Expats OFW Blog Awards advised fellow Filipinos not to open the luggage yourself until a relative or a lawyer is present; once so, ask the arresting officers to get the alleged bullet from the luggage in order to avoid having your fingerprints on the “evidence.” As soon as the arresting officer retrieves the bullet himself, that will be the best time to undergo fingerprinting. Victims can charge officers involved for civil lawsuits and obtain civil damages, including paying for their next flight.