With fingers pointing in different directions at the Senate inquiry into the “tanim-bala” extortion racket in airports, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero wants the Office for Transportation Security (OTS) and the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) to clarify their exact roles in airport security.
The senator made the call as some 9,000 APEC delegates and members of foreign media descend on Manila for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week.
“The government is spending some P10 billion to host this major trade meeting and project the strength of the Philippine economy – we can’t possibly let a few bullets finding their way into random bags ruin the good image we’re building here,” said Escudero, an independent vice-presidential candidate and frontrunner in surveys.
He said the country cannot afford to be lax amid terror threats in other parts of the world, citing what appeared to be coordinated attacks on different venues in Paris last week that killed at least 129 people.
“The MIAA and OTS should know by this time what each agency’s role is in airport security, so that we know who to look for when problems arise,” he said.
Escudero wants the OTS, in particular, to explain a recent memorandum it issued that effectively creates an “airport security organization in each airport serving civil aviation.”
The memo, issued by OTS chief Roland Recomono on Sept. 2, said the airport authority, which in Metro Manila is the MIAA, should create an “airport security authority” that will be responsible for “coordinating the implementation of security controls and procedures at each airport.”
The airport authority was also tasked to “establish and implement an airport security program.”
On top of that, an airport security committee should be created to assist the airport security authority in each airport, the memo said.
“If the OTS is the single authority responsible for transportation security, then what is the role of the MIAA and all these other security authorities whose creation is mandated by the new memo?
“So many authorities and committees and organizations are involved in airport security, but at the end of the day, when something goes wrong, no one claims responsibility. Just look at the people surrounding the ‘tanim-bala’ victims,” he said.
MIAA General Manager Jose Angel Honrado said during the Senate hearing that he was out of the loop in the “tanim-bala” cases, and had no control over other agencies operating in the airport.
Five “tanim-bala” victims who appeared before the Senate said none of the agencies at the NAIA terminals—the MIAA, OTS, Philippine National Police’s Aviation Security Group (Avesgroup)—had sought their side of the story.
The victims were simply informed by the screeners that there was a bullet in their luggage, and then subsequently brought to the Avsegroup, who either filed charges against them or asked for money.
“Sa dami ng mga taong namamahala sa seguridad sa NAIA, wala ni isa mang nakaisip na tumulong sa mga pasaherong nahulihan daw ng bala. Lahat sila atat mangikil at magkaso,” Escudero said.
“Ngayong nakahanap ng boses at mga kakampi ang mga biktima, lahat sila walang alam,” he added.
The OTS and MIAA reported 1,394 ammunition-related cases this year, many of them reported in the last two months.
Some of the victims had revealed extortion attempts by airport security personnel, who they believe had planted the bullets in their luggage.
The OTS was created in 2004 by virtue of Executive Order 311, designating it as “the single authority responsible for the security of the transportation systems of the country.”
The OTS is also in charge of the security screening of passengers, baggage and cargoes, and hiring, retention, training and testing of security screening personnel, according to EO 311.
The recent memo by OTS, an office under the Department of Transportation and Communications, however, muddles the responsibility for airport security, Escudero said.
“The OTS should explain this memo and give us a clear picture of who is responsible for what at our airports. We have to identify each agency’s role and get rid of redundant functions,” he said.