Bullet scam artists have been victimizing travelers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Metro Manila, Philippines. Among the 30 reported airport victims for January through November of 2015 are a 65-year-old Filipino grandmother, a 20-year-old American missionary, a 33-year-old Japanese tourist, and a teenaged South Korean choir member.
According to Philstar, grandmother Nimfa Fontamillas, 65, became part of the bullet scam scandal at the Manila airport when she was prevented from boarding her flight to Singapore on November 1, 2015. X-ray imaging identified a bullet inside her bag and put her in the crosshairs of the Aviation Security Office. Clint Estandarte, her lawyer, studying the reported scam at the Manila airport, planned to post bail for her inquest at the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office. Her out-of-pocket expense for the Singapore holiday that did not take place is expected to be substantial.
According to Inquirer, American missionary Lane Michael White, 20, was held at the Aviation Security detention cell for six days after being charged with possession of a.22-caliber bullet detected in his luggage by X-ray on September 17. The Florida native said his refusal to pay P30,000 in an alleged bullet scam at the Manila airport, led to his detention and legal problems. With Judge Pedro Gutierrez of Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 119 allowing him to post bail reduced from P80,000 to P40,000, White made the following statement.
“They can lie to people but not to God. I stand by my statement. If my being jailed was needed to make the truth come out and save other people, then being in jail was worth it.”
The BBC reports that tourist Kazunobu Sakamoto, another possible bullet scam victim, was found with two bullets in his luggage on October 25, and arrested after failing to show documents authorizing him to carry ammunition at the Manila airport. The 33-year-old Japanese national was released on P40,000 bail, but the expenses piled up because he needed to extend his visa to attend his first hearing, set for November 16, by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.
On October 14, a 19-year-old choir member of Los Cantates de Manila, on its way to an international competition in Busan, South Korea, was prevented from boarding her flight when a bullet was spotted in her bag, according to Rappler. With the ensuing furor over another scam in progress, authorities determined her bullet a harmless amulet and allowed the South Korean teenager, named “Rachel,” to book a new flight and join her 25-member choir at the competition. Darwin Vargas, conductor of Los Cantantes de Manila, announced that his choir won the grand prize at the competition, but regretted how their hard-earned money was wasted on Rachel’s first flight booking. No details were provided on the expense and mental anguish the teen experienced while securing another flight out of the airport.
The Legal Information Institute defines extortion as the obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right. The key words are “property” referring to money, and “official right” referring to the enforcement of law. The bullet scam fits this definition of extortion, and the Manila airport authorities have the power to crack down on the unethical practice.
The violation of one’s civil liberties has been equated with rape and should be dealt with as such. That an innocent traveler falls prey to this bullet scam is a travesty, and the Manila airport authorities are mandated to protect civilians under their watch.
Another point to consider is the absurdity factor. The re-occurrence of the bullet scam at the Manila airport has reached a ridiculous level. The profiles of the victims and the nature of the crime do not match, and experienced investigators would recognize the disparity whereby reasonable doubt debunks the allegation of crime. The accused could be smuggling a bullet just as easily as a scam artist could slip one into a traveler’s bag. The no-brainer is the profile of a 65-year-old grandmother versus her wanting to smuggle a bullet for no imaginable purpose. Common sense should prevail.
This situation lays the grounds for a class action suit by victims entitled to redress for their mental anguish and monetary loss. A knowledgeable lawyer would recognize the symptoms of a tort case in the bullet scam at the Manila airport, and help the victims find justice in the form of commensurate compensation.
[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images]