How to avoid falling prey to 'tanim bala' scheme

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Passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport are becoming more vigilant against alleged 'tanim bala' scam.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Numerous passengers — foreigners included —  have been complaining in the recent weeks of being framed for possession of live ammunition in their luggage in various Philippine airports.

The Philippine National Police-Aviation Security Group (PNP-AVSeG) recorded 30 alleged cases of "tanim bala" [planting of bullets in luggage] or "laglag bala" [dropping of bullets in luggage] from January to November 2015, while the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) recorded five alleged cases in the past two weeks.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. earlier called the reported cases as isolated, but he said the government was investigating the matter.

The "tanim bala" scheme allegedly involves airport security officials who plant live ammunition in order to extort an exorbitant amount of money from the passenger caught with the planted bullet inside their luggage.

Under Republic Act 10591, it's unlawful for anyone to possess or buy firearms and ammunition without the license to do so.

To avoid falling prey to the "tanim bala" scheme, Joseph Plazo of Plazo Associates Law shared his tips as a lawyer on how you can protect your luggage and how you can practice your legal rights if you become a victim of the alleged scam.


Use hard-case luggage, avoid bags that have external pockets

Some concerned citizens have posted videos of how easy it is to pry open the zippers of a padlocked luggage; all it will need is a ballpoint pen to dislodge the zipper to open the bag with locks and you won't even know that your luggage was tampered.

Plazo advised travelers to choose a hard-case luggage sealed with heavy-duty padlocks, so the passenger would easily know if their bags had been tampered.

He also suggested using luggage without external pockets. If it has external pockets — no matter how small or seemingly hidden — don't forget to secure it with heavy-duty padlocks.

Wrap your entire luggage in cling wrap

If you already have a luggage that is not a hard case, you can still opt to use it, but add a tightly-wrapped layer of cling wrap around your luggage for safety.

"Wrap the entire bag in plastic. The shrink wrap makes sticking in a bullet difficult," he said.

MIAA spokesperson Dave de Castro said that a new service to wrap travelers' bags is now available at airport terminals and a numbers of passengers had already availed of the service.

Let the officials go through your bag — but only in the presence of witnesses, a lawyer, and official's supervisor

Eric Apolonio, spokesperson of the Civil Aeronautics Association of the Philippines (CAAP), advised travelers to keep an eye on their luggage at all times, even as it goes through the airport security X-ray and walk-through metal detectors.

If an airport security employee claims to have seen a bullet in the X-ray of your luggage and insists that you are carrying contraband and proceeds to open your bag, Plazo said that you have the right to delay the opening of your bag until your lawyer, the airport official's supervisor, or third-party witnesses arrive.

When your lawyer, the official's supervisor, and witnesses are already with you, open the locks of your bag, and let the airport officials take it from there.

Plazo stressed that you should let the airport official go through the contents of your bag and find the alleged bullet seen in the X-ray, adding that if the bullets were planted, it will not bear your fingerprints.

"A bullet with none of your fingerprints sheds reasonable doubt on the possession of the said item," Plazo said.

You have the right to remain silent

Section 12 of the Philippine Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution clearly states that you have the right to remain silent.

Plazo added that, if the airport officials demand you to admit that you own the bullet found in your luggage, you can stand by your right to remain silent and that any admission you might be forced to make without the presence of a lawyer would be inadmissible in court.

Know your legal rights

Plazo reminded air passengers that no police officer can set bail, as only judges are empowered by law to set bail.

"Corrupt officials may say: 'Sir, you simply have to pay [extortion amount here], and we'll let you go.' This is a trap," Plazo said.

Public officers proved to have violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act RA 3019 will be punished by a fine or imprisonment.

If the airport officials detain you arbitrarily, Plazo said you have ammunition to fight back by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus or a complaint of arbitrary detention.

"Habeas corpus is a legal proceeding to obtain liberty. The remedy is proper where the rogue authorities have no probable cause nor basis to hold you, while arbitrary detention is a crime equivalent to illegal detention, more popularly known as kidnapping," Plazo stated.

CNN Philippines' Kristine de Guzman and Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.