More and more people, Filipinos and foreigners alike, are becoming victims of tanim-bala in NAIA. Tanim-bala is the extortion practice of airport officials to place bullets inside your luggage, in an effort to extort money from you. There are two ways to protect yourself from tanim-bala: preventive and by knowing your rights.
Many videos now show how easy it is to tamper with your luggage with the use of a pen. I wrote a a short article on this here and gave some tips on how to-tamper proof your luggage. To summarize, here’s a short video on how to tamper with your luggage without leaving a trace.
To avoid this, you have two options. First option is to wrap your luggage with cling wrap. In most international airports, there are establishments that will do this for you for $15. Wrapping your luggage with plastic will not damage your bag, which is important if your bag is expensive. The second option is to seal the entire zipper area and all other pocket zippers of your luggage with duct-tape or any other tape that adheres well. Your luggage might look ugly, and your bag might sustain some superficial damage when you’re trying to remove the tape, but at least, you’re protecting yourself. Here are some photos of cling-wrap and duct-taped luggage for your reference.
Know Your Rights
Now if, despite all these preventive efforts, you’re in NAIA, your bag went through the x-ray, and an airport official says there is contraband inside your bag, be cool and don’t fear. Just know your rights. Here are the scenarios:
First Scenario: Airport Official Wants to Open Your Bag
Before the airport official opens your bag, tell him that because of the tanim-bala controversy, you now require certain conditions before he opens your bag: a screenshot image in the x-ray scanner of your bag being screened, and the presence of the airport official’s supervisor and at least two witnesses of legal age who will be present when the airport official opens your bag.
Screenshot image: Request them to put your bag through the x-ray scanner again to get a screenshot of the image that appears in the scanner. You might need to use this as evidence in the future.
Presence of airport official’s supervisor and at least two witnesses of legal age: When the airport official opens your bag, it will be his word against yours. For this reason, it is always better to have witnesses who can see and testify on what is happening, in the event that this becomes a full-blown case. Ask for the airport official’s supervisor and at least two witnesses of your own who can observe the airport official in all angles when he is opening your luggage. If you have family traveling with you who are of legal age, they can act as witnesses, although there could be some speculation that they are biased or suffer from some conflict of interest if they testify for you in case bullets are found in your luggage. The best route would be to graciously ask the person in front of you and behind you in the x-ray counter if they could witness the airport official’s opening of your luggage. Filipinos would gladly help other kababayans in need. Don’t forget to get their names, address, phone numbers, and email, in case you might need them to testify or execute an affidavit in the future.
Second Scenario: A Bullet is Found in Your Luggage
If you’re sure the bullet is not yours, don’t fret. Request that the bullet be picked up by metal tongs and placed in a sealed plastic bag. If they’re not yours, you won’t have fingerprints on it. Do not touch the bullet. Your lack of fingerprints on the bullets would shed reasonable doubt on your possession of the bullets. Tell the airport official that planting of evidence is punishable by reclusion perpetua under Section 4-A Republic Act No. 9516. Tell them it is now your constitutional right to remain silent under Section 12, Article III of the Philippine Constitution, and you will not answer any questions without the presence of your lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer, they (the government) should provide you with one. I have provided the relevant legal provisions at the end of this article. If they insist that you admit ownership of the bullet, be assertive that you have the right to remain silent, and you will not say anything without your attorney. Any admission that you make without the presence of your attorney is inadmissible in court anyway.
Third Scenario: The Airport Official Will Ask You To Pay “Bail” So They Can Let You Go
This is a corrupt practice defined under Section 3 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) for which the airport official can be liable. Only judges can set bail, and bail is generally only set by the judge when the prosecutor has already filed an information against you. An information is a formal criminal charge. At this point, they might have found a bullet in your luggage, and you are under investigation in NAIA but there is no formal criminal charge yet.
Under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, NAIA has to properly turn you over to the proper judicial authorities (the court) within 12, 18, or 36 hours from the time of arrest, depending on the charge. If they don’t, the airport officials will be criminally liable and can be jailed. It’s general knowledge among the legal community that corrupt police officers would make arrests on a Friday afternoon because courts are closed on Saturday and Sunday, and the police could legally detain the person longer than these periods under Article 125, escape criminal liability, and extort money from those who don’t want to stay in jail for the duration of the weekend.
Now going back to the airport official, ask him what the formal charge is against you. This will determine how long they can detain you without turning you over to the court. You will have a better chance of defending yourself in court with a lawyer, so always move to be transferred to the court’s jurisdiction. Always keep the phone number of your family lawyer handy.
For your reference, here are the relevant provisions that I’ve mentioned throughout the article:
SEC 4-A. Criminal Liability for Planting of Evidence. – Any person who is found guilty of ‘planting’ any explosive or incendiary device or any part, ingredient, machinery, tool or instrument of any explosive or incendiary device, whether chemical, mechanical, electronic, electrical or otherwise, shall suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
“Planting of evidence shall mean the willful act by any person of maliciously and surreptitiously inserting, placing, adding or attaching, directly or indirectly, through any overt or covert act, whatever quantity of any explosive or incendiary device or any part, ingredient, machinery, tool or instrument of any explosive or incendiary device, whether chemical, mechanical, electronic, electrical or otherwise in the person, house, effects or in the immediate vicinity of an innocent individual for the purpose of implicating incriminating or imputing the commission of any violation of this Decree.
Section 12. (1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.
(2) No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.
(3) Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this or Section 17 hereof shall be inadmissible in evidence against him.
(4) The law shall provide for penal and civil sanctions for violations of this section as well as compensation to and rehabilitation of victims of torture or similar practices, and their families.
Section 3.Corrupt practices of public officers. In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
(b) Directly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the Government and any other part, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.
Article 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. – The penalties provided in the next preceding article shall be imposed upon the public officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of: 12 hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; 18 hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent; and 36 hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties or their equivalent.