MANILA - The lawyer of an American missionary allegedly victimized by the "tanim-bala" scam said there were several irregularities in the arrest and inquest of his client.
Atty. Ernesto Arellano said foreigner Lane Michael White, 20, visited the Philippines for the first time on September for missionary efforts with his father and stepmother. No bullet had been detected inside his luggage during his international flight from China.
On September 16, the family's flight to Coron, Palawan was cancelled after a two-hour delay at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). They then spent the night at a nearby hotel.
The family went back to the airport the following day, September 17, but failed to board the plane after airport security screeners claimed they found a bullet inside White's luggage.
Arellano said that after the luggage first passed through the machine, security screeners dug through the American's bag with their bare hands and laid out all its contents but failed to find the bullet.
"Kinalkal nila iyung bag, inilabas ang mga laman. Wala silang nakita noong una. Pero sa x-ray machine nila, mayroon daw, nasa outer," the lawyer told radio dzMM.
White's Filipino stepmother, Loisa Soleta, claimed the airport personnel insisted on scanning the bag again a total of seven times, Arellano said.
The tourists were also asked to step away from the luggage during the inspection.
Alarmed, Soleta took a video on her camera to show how airport personnel Marvin Garcia dug through the luggage and found the caliber .22 bullet.
"Kung makikita mo iyung footage na nakuha ng action camera ng stepmother, ni Loisa, iyung kamay ni Garcia ay ipinasok niya sa loob [ng bag] at pagkatapos inilabas niya, mayroon nang bala," Arellano said.
White denied owning the bullet and told security personnel he was not aware how it got inside the luggage.
During their conversation, White alleged that a male security personnel told him that he would not face charges if he pays 30,000 pesos.
White refused to settle with the NAIA personnel and insisted that he is innocent. He was charged with violation of the Comprehensive Law on Firearms and Ammunition on the same day.
Arellano pointed out irregularities in his client's inquest, claiming that he had been detained without being read his Miranda rights. The case against White was also filed before the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) without his lawyer.
"Ini-inquest agad noong September 17. Ini-file nang hindi man lang sinabihan ng kanyang Miranda rights, na pwede siyang kumuha ng abogado na tutulong sa kanya, na pwedeng mag-waiver, hindi sinabi," Arellano said.
White has since been temporarily released after posting a bail of 40,000 pesos. His case is pending before the court.
In behalf of the foreigner, Arellano has filed a motion for judicial determination of probable cause which seeks to convince the court to drop the charges against White.
Should the Pasay RTC favor White's appeal, Arellano said his client's "financially dislocated" family will return to the United States and study their next options.
On the other hand, if the court finds probable cause in White's case, his lawyer said the family is hoping that the government will at least review security measures at NAIA.
"Kapag pabor sa amin, ang gusto nila, umuwi muna kasi they are already financially dislocated at magpahinga, kanilang pag-isipan ang gagawin. Ang inaasahan nila kung hindi man pabor, ay gagawa ang pamahalaan ng kaukulang hakbang para linisin naman iyung proseso rito sa terminal," Arellano said.
The Whites' plan to build an outreach center in Palawan has taken the backseat as a result of the alleged extortion incident.