Duterte says syndicate is behind 'tanim bala' extortion scheme

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Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte

Davao City (CNN Philippines) — Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said that a syndicate is behind the series of incidents of passengers caught in the airport for alleged illegal possession of ammunition or the "laglag bala" [dropping bullet into a bag] or "tanim bala" [planting bullet into a bag] extortion scheme.

During his weekly television program Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa on Sunday (November 1), Duterte said he found it impossible to believe the growing number of incidents of ammunition found inside the luggage of passengers. But he added that it had been going on for the past two to three years.

"I suspect that the very moment they [victims] entered NAIA, right at the cargo hold, the bullets were already planted. Those who can enter that area are only the airline employees and the police. So there is really a syndicate working inside and outside the airport," Duterte said.

He added that last Friday's incident at the Davao International Airport, in which two 9mm bullets were discovered inside the luggage of engineer Augusto Dagan, must be investigated thoroughly.

The mayor called on the City Prosecutors Office to look into the charges filed against the engineer, who traveled to Davao City to inspect an ongoing project of the Davao City Water District.

A police report stated that the bullets were discovered by security screening officer Arell Mark Villareal at the initial screening checkpoint of the Davao International Airport around 9:40 a.m. Friday.

It was learned that Dagan posted bail of P150,000. So he was able to fly back to Manila on the same day.

He was charged with illegal possession of ammunition, a violation of Presidential Decree 1866.

So far, six cases using the modus operandi have been reported in the media wherein victims were asked to pay huge amounts to avoid criminal charges.

Duterte warned all airport personnel — be it in Davao or Manila — to stop planting bullets in the luggage of passengers. He said that he would not think twice in ordering a member of the syndicate to swallow the planted bullet right in front of their victims.

"If I am the president, I will order you to swallow that bullet," he said.

Related: Santiago, Cayetano call for probe of reported 'tanim bala' scam

Duterte also called on President Benigno Aquino III to address the nation on the issue so that it would put an end to illegal activity.

Palace's response to the alleged 'tanim bala'

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma Jr., meanwhile, said that authorities were looking into the matter even if the reported planting of bullets incidents were isolated cases.

"Kailangan din nating ilagay sa tamang konteksto. Libu-libo ang gumagamit ng paliparan at iilan lang naman 'yung mga nakitaan ng ganitong mga — nakitaan ng bala... Sa kabila 'non ay iniimbestiga at sinisiyasat ang mga pangyayaring ito," Coloma said.

[Translation: "Let's put this in proper context. Thousands of passengers pass through our airports and those who were found with bullets were just a few people... But still, we are investigating the matter."]