Over the past few weeks, stories have been emerging out of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) about planted bullets in baggage and bribes. Several readers in the Philippines have brought this story to our attention, hoping we can warn future visitors of this tourist-targeting scam.
So far two foreign tourists and two local overseas workers have reported passing through security, only to be accused of illegally transporting bullets in their carry-on luggage. After detecting bullets on the X-ray machine, guards searched the suitcases by hand, pulling out bullets tucked away in pockets. They then gave the travellers two options: pay a bribe, or be detained for illegal possession of ammunition. One wheelchair-bound Filipino traveller paid her P500/approx. USD 20 bribe and later returned to file complaints, while a second American missionary refused to pay his P30,000/approx. USD 650 bribe and was detained for 5 days. More recently, a Japanese tourist and another overseas worker fell victim to the extortion scheme on October 26. The scam is being called the tanim-bala or laglag bala scam, and is allegedly connected to a local gang.
The Manila International Airport Authority and Office for Transportation Security are currently investigating the incidents, and government senators are calling for broader reform surrounding airport security personnel. Two employees have been placed under preventative suspension, and they stand to be charged with life in jail if found guilty.
If you find yourself travelling through NAIA, be aware that this scam seems to target foreigners and overseas Filipino workers. You would be wise to pay particularly close attention to your belongings landside, as it is not clear how or when the bullets are buried into luggage. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) also encourages you to keep zippers, pouches and pockets of their luggage locked, and to never lose sight of your baggage when passing through security. It is of utmost importance that you stay with your baggage until it goes into the X-ray machine, and that you pick it up immediately when it comes out. The CAAP has also provided additional funding for security camera upgrades.