The horror that is the “tanim bala” (bullet planting) or “laglag bala” scam. If you’re a frequent traveler like I am, I’m sure you are either worried or angry – or even both! This airport scam in the Philippines surely is a controversial one. “Laglag bala” or “tanim bala” is where innocent travelers fall prey to members of alleged syndicates who “drop” live ammunition in luggage and as a result, either miss their flights or get extorted for huge amounts of money.
Take the case of the 60 year old engineer who flew from Manila to Davao. He was found in possession of two bullets at the Davao International Airport. Like most of the victims, he said he did not know how the bullets got into his bags but he was charged for illegal possession of ammunition nonetheless. He was only released when he posted a Php 150,000 bail.
This scam really worries, infuriates me. Not only for myself and other passengers but for our country as well. Even the United Nations has issued a warning to their staff about this airport scam at NAIA! Nakakahiya!
I agree when Sen. Chiz Escudero said that this modus operandi, if unstopped, could reverse the government’s gains in tourism and make a complete mockery of the popular “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign.
* At the Davao International Airport Immigration counter
So how do ordinary travelers like ourselves avoid becoming victims of this “laglag bala” modus operandi? As a regular traveler, allow me to share some helpful tips:
1. Keep all your bags’ pockets and pouches locked. Best to use a TSA-approved lock. BUT – I hate to break it to you – unless you have an anti-theft, slash-proof bag, it’s still easy for unscrupulous individuals to stick something as simple as a pencil through the zipper and open it.
So perhaps it’s best to buy an anti-theft bag like this one:
What you can also do is wrap your entire bag with cling wrap. This can be DIY or pay Php 160 at a service provider at NAIA. Alternatively, you can buy luggage covers. These are made of polyester and spandex and are available in colorful, trendy designs so you can easily spot them at the baggage area.
2. As much as possible, carry your own bags. Don’t let anybody touch or go near your bags. Use trolleys. Whenever I reach the x-ray machines, I give the person before me the courtesy of at least 2 feet before I place my bags on the conveyor belt. In the event that you really need assistance (if you’re differently-abled or a senior citizen), commission your regular porter or bring a travel companion.
3. Avoid accepting any packages from anybody. If these come from friends or relatives, make sure that you know the exact contents of the package.
4. Keep an eye on your bags as these pass through the x-ray machine. Again, make sure that nobody touches your bags. Now if an airport security officer claims that they saw a bullet, don’t let them touch your bag first. Ask if you can see the x-ray monitor. You can let officials go through your bag but if and ONLY IF there are witnesses such as a lawyer, airport supervisor, your travel companions and/or third party witnesses. BE VIGILANT!
5. My most important advice – KNOW YOUR RIGHTS and insist on them. Don’t panic – unscrupulous individuals would know if they can intimidate you. First off, you have the right to remain silent so never allow anybody to pressure you into admitting to a crime you did not commit. Do not sign any waiver of any kind without the presence of a lawyer. Never give in to extortion. Remember, you can insist that the bullet be checked for your fingerprints.
I hope these tips help. Please share and let’s all help put a stop to this truly shameful scam!