2 scared ladies and their 'anting-anting' bullets.
I was being escorted around Naia 3 by the OTS (Office for Transportation Security) chief, retired commodore Roland Recomono, in connection with the laglag/tanim-bala scandal (that word comes strongest to mind), which was being filmed for my TV show, Bawal ang Pasaway (with Recomono as guest on Monday).
Very important to the story is the fact that Naia 3 is the only terminal with an open lobby: It is open to passengers and nonpassengers alike, and all of them have to submit to x-ray scanning.
With this as background, let me proceed. At the beginning of our tour, we were told that two people had been detected carrying bullets by the x-ray machines at the entrance. They were at the AvseGroup station on the second floor. So naturally the production crew hied there. We wanted to hear their stories and witness what they were going through.
We found two very scared ladies waiting to be transported to another station for questioning. Why they could not be questioned in situ, I did not ask. There were at least 6 AvseGroup personnel around, headed by Insp. Angelie Encog. The ladies had been there at least an hour, waiting for the transport.
What were their stories? Neither of the two were passengers. One, a middle-aged lady from Ifugao, was there to see her mother off. The other, a younger lady, was there with her family to meet an arriving nephew. Entering the terminal, they were subjected to x-ray scanners. Both had forgotten that they carried bullets.
Both carried the bullets as anting-anting (amulet). The middle-aged lady, Mildred Bitug, had hers for over 10 years, and it was found amid the medallions and other religious artifacts she carried. What was the
anting-anting for? Protection against harm while traveling to and from Ifugao. The younger lady said her mother-in-law had given her the anting-anting just three months ago. Why? Protection against kulam (hex). It occurred to neither of them that they would be at risk because neither was a passenger.
A simple story. One would expect it would have a simple solution.
Why did I expect a simple solution? Well, after all, Josie Trias' story was all over the news about how, having been found with a bullet in her hand-carry, and having announced that she was willing to go to jail because she knew she was innocent, the AvseGroup personnel allowed her to board her flight after she signed their logbook report that the bullet was an anting-anting. So there was a precedent for the two ladies to be freed with little hassle. That's one. The second, of course, was that the two ladies were a threat to no one, since they were not passengers.
So I asked Inspector Angelie if she had the authority to let them go. The answer was in the negative. I asked for her superior, and she called him up, and I talked to him. He said he had no authority. All very apologetically, of course.
Angelie, or maybe it was my production staff, then called up the head of the AvseGroup, a General Balagtas. I told him the story. Surely he had the authority, since his underlings had allowed Trias to leave. But if he had, he did not want to take the responsibility. He would have to consult with Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez.
Well, I tried to call Marquez, and, receiving no answer, texted him. He called back while I was talking to General Balagtas. So I called him back, and told him what I had told his subordinates. I expected immediate action-after all, how high can you go? But Director General Marquez wasn't about to take action either. He told me that he was going to consult his lawyer, and that he would then communicate with Balagtas, who, he said, would call me back.
So, having gone up the bureaucratic ladder for a decision, we were going down again. Everyone was in cover-your-ass mode. Balagtas called me back and put me through to a lawyer. My conversations with all these people, with their permission, were recorded. But the lawyer did not want to have our conversation recorded.
As far as he was concerned, what the ladies did was a crime. Punishable by imprisonment of six to 12 years for possessing one bullet, if you stuck to the letter of the law. How stupid was that? Is that what our lawmakers intended? Where was common sense? He then threw me off completely by talking about a flexibility clause. It crossed my mind that he had not read the law or its implementing rules and regulations.
And that is how it ended. The AvseGroup head, and his superior, the PNP head, refused to take action in favor of two harmless ladies in spite of existing precedent(s). And depended on a lawyer whose expertise on the subject was doubtful. But never mind. They covered their asses. The ladies had no one to look after them.
I apologized to the ladies for my inability to help them. In the meantime, another lady had been added to the list of criminals. She was a breast-feeding mother who had come to meet her husband, and also had an amulet, and was desperate to go home to her baby. Sorry. We can't do anything.
What does it take for the bureaucracy to make a decision in the name of common sense? Does it need P-Noy's personal intervention? God help us.
In the meantime, why not put up large signs at airport entrances reminding all and sundry that anting-anting bullets are verboten?